When the Charlottesville City Council denied a live music permit for Matteus Frankovich’s Black Market Moto Saloon property near the Woollen Mills neighborhood on Monday, the move came as something of a surprise to those who had worked to reach a compromise between the bar owner and local residents.
The 4-1 vote—Dave Norris was the lone holdout—went against the recommendations of a nearly unanimous Planning Commission, which had worked extensively with Frankovich to hammer out a proposal that limited the impact of hosting live music events at his bar and restaurant on the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue. The contentious battle over music at the Moto Saloon had dragged on for months, pitting many nearby residents—who have long fought for a zoning change to quiet their neighborhood—against Frankovich and his patrons.
“We make a recommendation, and it’s always Council’s decision, but I have to say, I thought we worked very hard to craft a compromise,” said Planning Commission member Dan Rosensweig. “We put up the most stringent set of restrictions that we ever have, I think.”
It’s understandable that Council and the Commission could reach different conclusions on the same permit application, said Rosensweig. The Commission works in a sort of “zoning vacuum,” he said, and is completely guided by what’s on the books. The Council can and does weigh other factors.
“They’re not nearly as restricted in terms of rationale for making decisions,” he said.
And some on the dais Monday appeared to weigh other factors. City Councilor Kathy Galvin said the truest test of whether live music was acceptable for the bar happened months ago, when the Moto Saloon was hosting live shows in violation of its certificate of occupancy. The outpouring of frustration from the community at the time was evidence, she said, “that this property use is not harmonious with the existing patterns of use in the neighborhood.”
Fellow councilors Kirstin Szakos and Dede Smith and Mayor Satyendra Huja largely agreed with Galvin, though Szakos emphasized that the decision wasn’t about whether the Moto Saloon itself was a proper place for live music, but rather whether its permanent location could ever be expected to appropriately be home to a music hall.
“It’s almost irrelevant who’s operating it,” Szakos said.
After the vote, Frankovich said he was frustrated at the Councilors’ application of what he felt was a vague Comprehensive Plan that didn’t really represent what’s possible for the neighborhood his restaurant is in.
“A lot of the semantics around the future of Charlottesville—I think that’s still very abstract, and I’m kind of paying the price for an undeveloped vision here.” He had received a lot of support from nearby businesses and dozens of local residents, not to mention hundreds of other city residents who stood behind him. “Basically as a business owner, I’m just trying to cater to the desires of my clientele,” he said.
Frankovich said he appreciated the work that went into hammering out a compromise, even if the end result wasn’t what he’d wanted. “I respect the planning commission’s willingness to get in there in the midst of a back and forth scenario and find some solutions that work for everyone,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that the city is not in a place to support that right now.”
And somewhat unusual, Rosensweig said. In most cases, the City Council upholds Planning Commission recommendations. Such a strong overturn is fairly rare.
“It doesn’t happen that much, especially not for a pretty decisive vote,” he said. Though it has happened once already with the currently seated Council he said—a few months back they reversed what he said was a fairly non-controversial zoning decision in the Rose Hill neighborhood, so “it will be interesting to see if this is part of a trend.”
Still, he said, everyone on the Commission respects Council’s right to make the final decision. “We understand our role is just as a recommending body,” he said.