City Council’s Moto Saloon vote overturns compromise

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Matteus Frankovich, owner of Black Market Moto Saloon, listens as the Charlottesville City Council discusses denying him a special use permit to allow live music at his bar and restaurant at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue. Matteus Frankovich, owner of Black Market Moto Saloon, listens as the Charlottesville City Council discusses denying him a special use permit to allow live music at his bar and restaurant at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue.

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.

 

  • dictionary

    com·pro·mise
    1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.

    (was the Planning Committees ruling a compromise?)

  • LillyJ

    “Basically as a business owner, I’m just trying to cater to the desires of my clientele,”

    Well Mr. Frankovich, maybe you ought to think about catering to some of the desires of the people who live near the restaurant. Don’t you claim it’s a neighborhood bar after all? In fact the gap between that claim and what seems to me to be the reality is the only “undeveloped vision” I’m seeing here. The price being paid is one for being bull-headed and opening as a music hall after being handed a certificate of occupancy that clearly stated the fact that no live music was allowed without a special use permit. Just how is that “abstract” or anyone else’s fault?

    We went through this in Belmont not long ago as everyone knows and I never thought we’d see something like this happen again so soon such a short distance away. I think the City Council did the right thing in this case, but it was a close call for the people most impacted.

    If BelRio wasn’t, this should be a wake up call to everyone in the city to pay attention and take a close look at permits etc. if it looks like someone is building a nuisance in your neighborhood. This won’t be the last time someone tries and it will be much less painful to just nip it in the bud.

    If this place had been shut down immediately, like it should and could have been had neighbor been vigilant and the zoning staff on the ball, they never would have been able to build the gang of followers that they tried to use to dominate the discussion. The planning commission obviously wasn’t listening to reason, it was reacting to the mob mentality of a group of self entitled people who obviously don’t care about the impact of their life choices on other people. I applaud the common sense of the Council in general and Kathy Galvin in particular. She cut right through the BS and laid down a clear and sensible explanation of why the SUP wasn’t appropriate in that neighborhood.

    • J.M.

      I’d encourage you to take a step back and evaluate the tone of your message. Your desire to insult the other side won’t convince neutral parties (like myself) to take you seriously.

      Mr. Frankovich seems to have been rash in opening without live music permissions in place. But that does nothing to invalidate the compromise hammered out with planning officials. If you have something worthwhile to share about why that compromise is wrong, feel free. Otherwise, the more you type comments like this, the more damage you do to your cause.

    • Snicklefritz

      “a group of self entitled people who obviously don’t care about the impact of their life choices on other people.” Care to elaborate Lilly? I’m curious as to what type of life choices you are talking about. Sounds like you are painting with a wide brush here but perhaps I’m reading more into this statement than you intend?

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