[Lexi Lepof | WOUB]

Local Restaurant Faces Difficulties From Unclear City Zoning Code

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Following a confusing battle with the city zone code, a local Athens restaurant gained approval Tuesday to open up a permanent location.

For years Dr. May’s Thai Kitchen has been trying to find a permanent home, it found it at 333 East State St., the former location of Athens Lock & Key. Athens Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday voted to approve it to operate but it wasn’t an easy process.

Current zoning code states eating and drinking establishments are not able to operate within 200 feet of a residential area. But, as a take-out restaurant, Dr. May’s Thai Kitchen is in question.

Owner May Rath says the code office sent her request to the zoning board to make a decision because the definition of what is considered an eating and drinking establishment is unclear. 

“That’s why he wants us to go through like interpretation to see if we fit or not because he said he kinda looked through for the definition and sometimes it includes the take-out and some not include the take-out so he doesn’t know for sure which way he should make decision,” Rath said. 

Take-out only establishments increased during the 2020 pandemic. Director of Code Enforcement David Riggs says this increase calls for the code to be updated.

“As we grow and business models change, we get some of these codes that become obsolete or need to be revised so we need to constantly work on those code changes to keep up with the current times,” Riggs said. 

Dr. May’s Thai Kitchen will not be the last business to face this issue if the code is not revised. 

Riggs says he wants businesses to come to Athens without facing challenges with these rules. 

“It actually helps everybody, it helps the community, it helps the city, it helps the businesses of course and that’s what we want to do. We want to kinda help move those forward any way we can,” Riggs said.  

Although Rath said she felt defeated at the beginning of this process, she is now elated over the results of Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am really happy. I feel like the city really welcomes the minority, an Asian woman who runs a business like me,” Rath said. 

Athens City Council and the code office are expected to continue work on updating the code to make the process clear and efficient.