Moto Saloon wins initial approval for live music

Matteus Frankovich, owner of Black Market Moto Saloon. Photo by John Robinson. Matteus Frankovich, owner of Black Market Moto Saloon. Photo by John Robinson.

Matteus Frankovich said all he wants to do is give back to the city he lives in, but intricate zoning laws and unhappy neighbors have made it difficult for him to do so. Woolen Mills residents have complained that his restaurant, the Black Market Moto Saloon, is detrimental to the neighborhood, and the city temporarily shut it down for illegally hosting live music. After months of local debate, at last Tuesday’s meeting, the City Planning Commission approved a special-use permit that will allow Moto Saloon to host limited live music.

Frankovich, who opened the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on the Downtown Mall nearly 10 years ago, opened the Moto Saloon, a motorcycle-themed restaurant and bar at the corner of Market Street and Meade Avenue last March. His vision was a lively, welcoming atmosphere with good food and music ranging from hard rock to bluegrass.

“What I am concerned with is just contributing something to Charlottesville that isn’t a cookie cutter model of a club or a restaurant,” he said.

The area is zoned light industrial, and because he had not applied for a permit to host live music, after delivering written warnings about the noise level, the city temporarily shut the restaurant down in July. Nearby restaurant the Lunchbox received the same warnings; the owner ceased hosting live music and did not want to fork out $1,500 for a permit. But if City Council gives Moto Saloon the go-ahead for live music, owner Joseph Young said he may consider applying too.

After anxiously awaiting the meeting, Frankovich showed up last Tuesday with a small army of supporters. Fewer than 10 spoke against it, and after hearing arguments from both sides, the commissioners held a lengthy discussion and came up with a compromise: Live music at the Moto Saloon must stop at 10pm on weeknights, at 12:30am on weekends, and is not permitted on Sundays or Mondays. Outdoor shows must end by 7pm, and a security guard is required to be present during live shows on the weekend.

The Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the permit, but the compromise did not seem to satisfy either side entirely.

“I think the weekday restraint is unrealistic,” Frankovich said. “Most shows start at 9pm, so we would hope for [an end time of] 11pm.”

Former Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association President Victoria Dunham said local residents have been active in the debate over zoning issues for years.

“For decades, our goal has been to get away from being continually hamstrung by the results of bad zoning practices,” Dunham said. “Unfortunately, it happened again last [Tuesday].”

Dunham said the city has been beating the neighborhood with the “industrial stick” for years, and the overall message at last week’s meeting was that non-harmonious use should be allowed because “it could be worse.” She did not comment on the specifics of the approved permit, but she called the decision-making process reactionary, and said it’s risky to implement something with so little thought and foresight.

“In the event that things go wrong, their assumption is that the neighborhood will somehow clean up the mess,” she said.

Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said the decision to allow live music at Moto Saloon was not an easy one. He said he hopes the permit will provide enough flexibility for the owner to properly run a business without negatively impacting the community, but wasn’t surprised that neither side was entirely happy.

“Well, that’s the nature of compromise, isn’t it?” Rosensweig said.

The Planning Commission takes public comments from both sides very seriously, he said, and the public opinion is woven in with other information, like the city’s Comprehensive Plan and specifications of the location itself.

“Can the impacts be mitigated? If the answer is no, then we likely wouldn’t recommend approval of the special-use permit,” Rosensweig said.

Planning Commissioner Lisa Green, a Belmont resident who witnessed a similar debate over live music at Bel Rio two years ago, said putting aside personal opinions was difficult in this case. But as great as it is to hear emotional testimonies from both sides, she said, ultimately the Commission’s task was to evaluate the land and potential negative impacts on the community.

“We tried to create a balance, and create the best situation for the neighborhood based off of land use and not necessarily the emotions and personalities,” Green said.

Green ultimately voted to approve the special-use permit, and said the fact that Frankovich broke the rules didn’t play into the Commission’s decision. That will be an issue for City Council to address when it casts final votes on the permit October 1.

“Sometimes it makes it appear that someone who’s snubbing the law gets away with something,” Green said. “But if he can stay within the boundaries, time will tell if he wants to remain a law abiding citizen.”

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