Noise complaints pit downtown Raleigh condo owners against bars

ccampbell@newsobserver.comOctober 18, 2013 

— Downtown bar owners and condominium residents clashed over late-night noise issues Tuesday at the Raleigh City Council meeting.

As more people move downtown, police officers have been cracking down on noisy bars, issuing a series of citations – some just for having an open door that leaks loud music. That effort brought two bar owners to the council seeking an outdoor music permit.

David Permar, an attorney for the Cornerstone Tavern on Glenwood South, said the bar owner was confused by the noise citation, because the business only had an acoustic guitar performance when the police arrived.

“We’ve been struggling to understand what that all means,” he said. “We interpret this citation to be for not having this very permit – an outdoor amplification permit – on the night in question.”

Cornerstone wants to hold outdoor performances four times a year but leave doors open and play “light background music” at other times. But the permit request drew fire from condominium residents and a hotel near the bar.

“Sometimes these permits get out of hand,” said Art Whitley, who lives in the 510 Glenwood building. “We’ve had a lot of bad experiences with late-night crowds and loud music disturbing our residents.”

Condo residents said they’ve called police multiple times about Cornerstone and other nearby bars and nightclubs. And a manager from the new Hampton Inn said the hotel has issued $7,700 in refunds thanks to noise complaints from guests – a total that represents more than 60 percent of refunds.

Some city council members noted that it’s difficult to separate one bar from the general nightlife noise downtown.

“There is a great deal of who was there first, who stepped out and took the risks to live there,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. “Clearly that hotel was built there knowing that you have bars that are going to be open until 2 a.m.”

The council ultimately approved a compromise for the permit request: Cornerstone can have two outdoor concerts in the next six months and keep doors open until 2 a.m. on weekends and 11 p.m. weeknights. The city will monitor decibel levels monthly, and the bar owner will return for a permit extension in six months.

After nearly an hour talking about Cornerstone’s request, the council also compromised on a similar permit for the Ugly Monkey Party Bar on Harrington Street in the Warehouse District. That bar has fewer residential neighbors, but several property owners still opposed a permit there.

Ugly Monkey owner Suzanne Becker said she has no intention of having outdoor music, but she also wants the option to keep the front door open, allowing customers outside to enjoy the disc jockey’s soundtrack.

But Ernest Charles, who owns an apartment building nearby, said the permit would open the door to noise concerns. “I just feel like the noise levels that are anticipated here are absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “My tenants would leave. We were there way before the Ugly Monkey.”

The Ugly Monkey received a one-year permit allowing an open door until 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.

With more apartments and bars planned downtown and police writing noise citations, the city council will spend more time balancing the two. “We are going to see a lot more of these, there’s no doubt about it,” Councilman John Odom said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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