"I'd like to contribute to a new, expanding, blossoming district," says Black Market Moto Saloon owner Matteus Frankovich.
Lunchbox owners Daniel Heilberg and Joe Young say they stopped the live music when the city issued a warning.
Two weeks after the city shut down the Black Market Moto Saloon for hosting live music without a special use permit, the doors are open for dinner, and owner Matteus Frankovich has applied for the permit, hoping to bring bands back in the fall over the objections of some Woolen Mills neighbors.
"The very root of the issue goes back to Bel Rio where someone's partying on, having wild nights without respect for neighbors," says Frankovich, recalling the defunct Belmont establishment that wreaked havoc on the sleep habits of nearby residents during its run from 2008 to 2010. "The difference," Frankovich notes, "is that I'm greatly concerned about my neighbors, and we've taken practical steps to keep music from affecting them."
Those steps include such soundproofing measures as baffling and a fortified interior wall, which was installed before the restaurant's opening in February. Frankovich says he would stand outside the building during shows to make sure the noise levels didn't seem unreasonable, and that a decibel meter reading showed the level never rose above the 75db limit set by City code for areas in its "light industrial" zones including East Market Street. In addition, Frankovich, who lives in the neighborhood and has a young child, notes that he tried to schedule shows only on the weekends and make them end by midnight.
Those efforts, however, didn't stop the city from shutting him down temporarily.
On Saturday night, July 7, Frankovich says, City Neighborhood planning boss Jim Tolbert descended on Black Market with fire and police officials to revoke the establishment's Certificate of Occupancy, forcing diners to leave mid-meal. Frankovich calls the move "unnecessary," claiming he'd been communicating with city zoning officials and had believed the problems could be worked out even as he acknowledges he'd failed to apply for a special use permit, required of any business that wishes to offer amplified music.
"I'd think Charlottesville, being a city of the arts, a city of culture, would support that rather than throw up obstacles," says Frankovich, who contends he was singled out for punishment since another new eatery, The Lunchbox, across Meade Avenue, was also offering live music without a permit and was not forcibly shut down.
Tolbert, however, says Frankovich's situation was unique and that the shut-down occurred only after Frankovich showed "blatant" disregard for written warnings.
In addition to writing "no live music" on his certificate of occupancy when the restaurant opened, Tolbert says, he delivered a handwritten note on Friday, July 6, warning Frankovich, after an arrest-laden fight outside the restaurant the night before, to cease the live music.
"We notified him on Friday; he ignored it on Saturday," says Tolbert, claiming that the city had previously had difficulties with Frankovich over live music at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on the Downtown Mall and that the written warning followed a month-earlier emailed warning.
"Because he had not heeded our warnings and he had more live music scheduled, we decided the only way to get his attention was to zero out his occupancy," Tolbert explains.
Frankovich, however, disputes the suggestion that he deliberately flouted rules or ignored a written notice.
"They slipped it under the door, and an employee put it on my desk unopened," he says. "I hadn't even seen it."
While the city allowed Frankovich to reopen the following week, he says the absence of music has hurt his bottom line.
"Sales are suffering," says Frankovich, noting that many of the patrons on hand for the live music acts were Woolen Mills residents excited to have a live music venue within easy walking distance.
While professing sympathy for the plight of restaurant owners struggling to attract customers, and describing herself as a live music lover, Woolen Mills neighborhood association president Victoria Dunham says she can't support live shows at either Black Market or The Lunchbox.
"I hope we're not going to end up in another situation that's painted as cool hipsters vs. mean fuddy duddies," she says, mentioning complaints she heard from residents who were bothered by the late night noise not only from the shows themselves but from people shouting while returning to their cars late at night.
At first, because Woolen Mills neighborhood is zoned light industrial, Dunham says, she and others didn't believe they had any recourse, unlike Belmont, which received some sound relief when the city lowered the allowed decibels in that "Neighborhood Commercial Corridor" from 75 to 55db between 11pm and 6am. Now, she says, she's hoping the city will reject Frankovich's application for the special use permit.
"This is painful," she says, "but as long as it's disturbing people in my neighborhood, it's an issue."
Both Tolbert and Dunham say that while shows at the Lunchbox, which were held outside on the patio, may have been louder, the owners of that small eatery responded quickly to the city's warning and stopped hosting acts.
"I knew nothing about the special use permit," says Lunchbox co-owner Daniel Heilberg, who says that the cancellation of live music has hurt his bottom line. As a small business, he says, he simply can't afford the $1,500 fee the City charges to apply for a special use permit– particularly since the fee doesn't guarantee approval– and he wonders why the fee is so high. (According to Tolbert, the fee covers "administrative expenses" and is in line with what similar-sized Virginia localities charge.)
"It would be one thing if you got some or all of it back if the application was rejected," notes Heilberg, who says he currently doesn't plan to pursue live music and will instead focus on the food service and catering sides of his business.
The issue will be discussed at a Planning Commission meeting on September 11, and Frankovich says he's welcoming input from Woolen Mills residents about the issue.
"I'm trying to do something that enlivens the culture of Charlottesville," he says. "I"m not trying to have a sloppy late-night rock club that creates problems with the neighborhood."
As this story was going to press, the Hook learned that Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association President Dunham, citing online "vitriol," announced her resignation. "The hyperbole amps up and feeds on itself, and we have chaos," she wrote in an email to neighbors. "It's just careless and hurtful, and utterly unnecessary."
One neighbor, however, reveals that Dunham has engaged in some online vitriol of her own, as postings on her Facebook page, in apparent reference to the Black Market Moto Saloon, refer to an "infestation of vermin" and "hipster douchebags" in the neighborhood.
"It makes it really hard to support local music when the douchiest musicians also happen to be the most shrill and get their panties in the tightest twist," she appears to have written. Dunham did not immediately respond to a reporter's request for comment.