Editor’s Note: City Council was wrong on Black Market Moto Saloon decision

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Black Market Moto Saloon owner Matteus Frankovich said he just wants to provide a neighborhood gathering place for Woolen Mills, and plans to apply for a $1,500 special use permit so the restaurant can continue hosting live music. Photo by John Robinson. Black Market Moto Saloon owner Matteus Frankovich said he just wants to provide a neighborhood gathering place for Woolen Mills, and plans to apply for a $1,500 special use permit so the restaurant can continue hosting live music. Photo by John Robinson.

There is a difference between comprehensive planning and comprehensive reasoning, but they share the same oxymoronic nature. Last week the City Council voted not to grant Matteus Frankovich and the Black Market Moto Saloon the special use permit the business needs to host live music, saying it was not part of the city’s comprehensive plan for the intersection of Market and Meade.

The vote came after the Planning Commission had voted 5-1 to recommend terms for a compromise and after the venue had passed City Council’s own independent sound test. My neighbor, Kathy Galvin, explained the decision, saying “the property use is not harmonious with the existing patterns of use in the neighborhood.” The old existing patterns of use line, eh?

There were a number of elements involved in the decision, no doubt, and everyone knows it’s hard to make money off of a music venue the size of the Moto Saloon. But I’ve chosen to depart from my usual pattern of introducing the cover story with this column to talk about a news story we ran on the Web, because I have a bone to pick with the decision.

Who determines “harmonious use,” and where does disharmony come in? Council killed live music because it was afraid of the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association, which has been arguing that the same light industrial corner should be down-zoned for many years. Just like it killed live music in Belmont a few years back. Except this time, the police never got a noise complaint about the venue, even though councillors cited the neighborhood’s reaction as a major impetus for their decision. Were people calling the bat phone? Or did some members of the neighborhood association, because this is a small town, have a direct line to city staff?

Neighborhood associations are informal groups designed to organize neighborhoods. They don’t exist everywhere in town, and they are almost always dominated by a small group of volunteers. When River Bend Management finishes City Walk, adding 300 residential units just across the street, the Carlton/Meade corridor will get even busier, and it’s already a fast-growing restaurant district. Once the city completes a walking bridge connecting Riverview Park and Pantops, much of the bike and foot traffic will move up and down Market Street.

The city says it wants to take better advantage of its riverfront. That can only happen if the riverfront and the Downtown are connected, which will happen along either Market or Meade as businesses recognize the opportunity. The Woolen Mills neighborhood will need protection for more than its spruce trees and industrial buildings then, and I hope the Council shows a more comprehensive comprehension when that time comes.