Toilet or deck: Restaurant owner faces tough choice

CHARLOTTE — Cocoa’s Authentic Jamaican Jerk in north Charlotte has a tough and unusual decision to make: add a toilet or take down the deck.

The restaurant didn’t have much seating so during the pandemic, it added a deck to help space people out more and keep the business going. But now, with things back to normal, the deck means additional seating for customers.

Cocoa’s only has one toilet, however.

Legally, under North Carolina’s plumbing code, that was enough before, when there wasn’t much seating. But now, Mecklenburg County code officials say it needs a second potty because of the extra capacity.

“I feel terrible,” owner Paula Brown told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke. “I just want stability. I want to know what I’m missing.”

In addition, the county says Brown never got a permit for the deck. It says had she done that, she would have found out about the toilet issue much sooner. It could hold her in violation now but says it’s working with her to get her that permit retroactively.

Basically, Brown has two choices: 1) get the permit for the deck and add a toilet or 2) knock down the deck to reduce seating (in which case, no need for an extra toilet).

She told Stoogenke that adding a toilet would mean adding a whole bathroom, not just a stall. She also said that she’d hate to get rid of the deck which, she says, was expensive.

“It came to about [$]58,500 to build it,” she said. “I don’t know what else to do. I don’t.”

The county is allowing Cocoa’s to stay open for now. But the clock is ticking.

In an email, the county told Stoogenke it wants to be “flexible,” but it can’t be “lax” when it comes to health and safety issues.

“We make every effort to work with our customers and help them achieve code compliance, especially when mistakes occur. Unpermitted construction in North Carolina that is not corrected – brought into compliance or returned to its original code-compliant state – is eventually subject to a notice of violation. This notice becomes attached to the property and can hamper transactions regarding the property, such as a sale. During the pandemic and immediately after, in particular, we have worked to extend additional understanding and allow our customers more time, when possible, to complete tasks that, left unaddressed, may result in notices of violation. That additional time, however, cannot become egregious. Code compliance is used in North Carolina to ensure safety. We want to be flexible, but we cannot be lax in the execution of our mandate,” part of the email reads.

It’s a great reminder to all businesses to make sure you know the rules and that when you make an improvement, you may have to make other changes as well.

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