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City officials have put an end to live music at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue, and two local restaurants—Black Market Moto Saloon and the Lunchbox—are feeling the pressure of keeping customers in a now concert-free zone. The business owners know that they must acquire special use permits, but many music lovers are still perplexed by the city’s decision to quiet the neighborhood.
Two years ago, noise complaints aimed at the Belmont restaurant Bel Rio led to a widespread debate over amplified music and its effect on the surrounding neighborhoods. Shortly after the issue’s resolution, the city changed its zoning regulations, and the only Charlottesville venues with by-right music privileges are on the Downtown Mall, along West Main Street, and on the Corner.
The zoning ordinance states that restaurant owners must obtain a special use permit from the city in order to host live, amplified music. But the application alone costs $1,500, takes 60-90 days to process, and does not guarantee a permit.
According to Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert, both the Moto Saloon and the Lunchbox were given written warnings, but the Moto Saloon chose to continue to host live music. Tolbert said owner Matteus Frankovich received a letter stating that his certificate of occupancy did not allow amplified music. After handling an “altercation” at the bar on Thursday, July 5, police reported a band playing, and the city responded by revoking the Saloon’s certificate of occupancy the following day. Around 10pm on Saturday, July 7, Tolbert arrived at the restaurant with two police officers and informed Frankovich that he was to shut down immediately for operating illegally.
Frankovich was given permission the following Monday to reopen the Moto Saloon, but in addition to business lost and the hassle of paying $1,500 for a permit that is not guaranteed, he believes he was treated unfairly.
“We did not have any music,” Frankovich said regarding the evening the Saloon was shut down. “We had a nice dinner crowd. Meanwhile, across the street at the Lunchbox, they’re having an outdoor hip hop show.” Under the impression that both restaurants had received warnings at the same time, Frankovich said he wondered if the city was acting on “some sort of personal vendetta.”
Tolbert’s reasoning was that the Lunchbox was quiet on July 7, with no evidence of a band or amplified music, and that its owners had complied with the city’s warning against live music without a permit.
But lunchbox co-owner Joe Young confirmed that hip hop artists Griff and John Mingsley began performing at 9pm on July 7. He said the group played until about 11pm, and he received his letter of warning from the city the following Monday.
The Charlottesville Police Department said it has received 13 noise complaints in the area since February—12 specifically mentioned the Lunchbox, with one complaint about “the area.”
Heather Cromer lives about a block away from the Lunchbox, and said she rarely hears music while she is home.
“I’ve only heard it on the weekends, and I can’t hear it from inside,” she said. Cromer said she thought the regulations were unfair, and added that she can often hear music from the Pavilion late at night.
Tanya Rutherford, who also lives within walking distance of the two bars, said she understands the city’s stance, and could empathize with the families who lived next door.
“The residents were there first,” she said. “It shouldn’t be their responsibility to keep the neighborhood quiet.”
But as a music fan, Rutherford said she was glad to have options closer to home than the Downtown Mall.
“I’m a big music fan, and that’s one of the great aspects of Charlottesville,” she said. “I love having them here.”
She said the younger generation seems to be more amenable to change in the neighborhood, but “those in power now may be stagnant and fairly traditional.”
Regardless of neighborhood opinion, both establishments must go through the process of applying for a special use permit if the owners wish to continue offering live music.
“It doesn’t matter how many neighbors complained,” Tolbert said. “It doesn’t matter if nobody complained at all. It’s illegal.”
Woolen Mills neighborhood association president Victoria Dunham has voiced her disapproval of both restaurants, and took it to another level last week, when she represented the polarization of the neighborhood by posting about the issue on her personal Facebook page, disparaging the “hipster douchebags” for what they’ve done to the neighborhood.
“Unfortunately, the ‘hood is having a bit of an infestation of vermin lately,” she posted, along with the song “Something Against you” by the Pixies. “Perhaps this little song will make ‘em scram. If not, then we’ll just have to get out that can of Raid we keep on reserve for times like these.”
Frankovich said live music is essential to what he is trying to accomplish at his restaurant, and with the support of regular customers and a petition with more than 200 signatures, he plans to move forward with the permit application and attend the September 11 Planning Commission meeting to address the issue.
“I see this neighborhood as an underserviced region,” Frankovich said. “I just want to offer something for Woolen Mills—not a music club, but more of a neighborhood pub.”