Bailee Elizabeth on recent Zoning / Music issues

March 16th, 2011 · 23 Comments · By

We know many of you have been following the recent developments around issues of Zoning and Music Venues in Charlottesville, and there isn’t a day that goes by that one of you doesn’t ask one of us what the latest update is. It’s a complex issue and we haven’t yet had the time or brainspace to write about it in great depth… so we thought we’d ask local music enthusiast and Nailgun correspondent Bailee Elizabeth to write us an article about it. All words below are Bailee’s; many thanks to her for both taking the time to write this up, and also for all she’s done for local music, both during the past months and also in general.

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I love this town.
I love the music scene here.  It has made me who I am.

The very first show I ever went to was Hole at Trax in 1994, and from that point on I knew that I wanted to be involved in music, in some way, for the rest of my life.  For years I participated by going to shows, and helping friends bands by making and selling merch, helping run shows and generally supporting in any way possible.  I watched thousands of bands at hundreds of shows express themselves in a way that has greatly affected my life.

I’ve also seen really amazing venues close since my involvement in the Charlottesville music scene began.  Trax, The Tokyo Rose, and the Pudhaus are good examples of this.  Trax was one of the first venues that brought midsized national touring bands into Charlottesville.   Then it closed because UVA bought the land tore down the building and put a storage trailer where the building once stood.  Travesty.  The Tokyo Rose closed when Atsushi decided to sell the business and the new owners didn’t want to have shows, I guess.  And the Pudhaus was shut down because of a complaining neighborhood and a news article that labeled it a venue.  These were places where I had experiences that deeply moved me, and the loss of them is something that I think about to this day.  So when I heard about the moves the city was making to have every place in town that has live music get a permit to continue doing so I knew I had to get involved.

Here’s where the story really begins…

January 18th I planned to take a nap and wake up and have band practice.  I get a phone call from Jacob Wolf at around 6:30pm that wakes me from my nap, and he’s telling me that I have to get down to city chambers because council is getting ready to vote on whether or not enforce zoning code and shut down a hand full of venues.  So I get up in a hurry and immediately start calling everyone I know who plays music or goes to shows to let them know what’s going on and get them down to city hall to make their presence known.  By the time I walk downtown and walk into chambers we managed to get probably 30 people there, at least ¾ of the citizens there were there to stand up for live music.

Once the meeting starts we learn that in 2003 the city redid the zoning rules and at that time changed the definitions of restaurant and added music hall to the lexicon.  The city defines “Restaurant” as any place of business wherein foods or beverages are provided for human consumption. The term Restaurant includes, without limitation: lunchrooms, cafeterias, coffee shops, cafes, taverns, delicatessens, hotel dining rooms, dinner theaters, soda fountains, and dining accommodations of public or private clubs. A fast food restaurant is one at which patrons order and receive food orders at a counter or window for consumption either on or off-premises. A full service restaurant is one at which patrons are seated at tables or booths, where food orders are taken at and delivered to such tables/booths by wait staff. This definition excludes: bakeries; bed-and-breakfast facilities; catering businesses (where food is prepared for consumption at another site); places that manufacture packaged or canned foods for distribution to grocery stores or other, similar food retailers for sale to the public; facilities licensed by the Department of Agriculture; snack bars and refreshment stands at public recreation facilities, operated for the convenience of patrons of the facility; concession stands at youth athletic activities, if such stands are promoted or sponsored by either a youth athletic association or a charitable nonprofit organization; or any facility exempt from state licensure requirements pursuant to Code of Virginia § 35.1-25. Entertainment for restaurant patrons which is clearly incidental to the restaurant’s primary function as defined herein, such as the playing of a piano or other non-amplified music, is permitted.

“Music Hall” is defined as any place or business open to the general public on a regular basis where music concerts are provided and/or dancing is permitted, for which an admission fee is charged or for which compensation is in any manner collected, directly or indirectly, by cover charge or otherwise. Foods or beverages may be purchased by or served to patrons on premises incidentally to the music hall’s stated primary function as defined herein.

Jim Tolbert basically told council that he wanted to initiate a study to see which places in town who were hosting live music were in compliance with the zoning code.  If they were not in compliance various actions would be taken.  Such as Cville Coffee, The Local, The Garage, and Beer Run would be told to cease live music completely because they were in zones where music was not permitted under any circumstance.  Other places such as the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, the Blue Moon Diner, the Pigeon Hole, and various other establishments would have to apply for a special use permit, which costs $1500, and requires an onerous process in which the city holds a public hearing to let the neighbors have a say on the issuance of the permit.  For example, before The Jefferson opened Coran Capshaw wanted to open a temporary venue on Preston Ave next to Reid’s.  He applied for the permit, paid the fee, and then the city held the public hearing and the neighborhood decided they didn’t want the venue and the permit was denied.  Various people from the public stood up and spoke in opposition to enforcing these rules and possibly shutting down several venues.  The city decided to postpone the initiation of the study.  After the meeting a bunch of us went back to the C&O to have a few beers and talk about the night.  Lex Gibson was the only one of us who stayed behind to the very end of the meeting and came back to the C&O later and told us how after we all left, council re opened the issue at the end of the meeting and decide to initiate the study after all.  My conversation with her that night made me realize that we had to keep focusing on this, and that we had not won.

During the week following there was a lot of misinformation being spread about what was really going on and I found myself being very frustrated by it.  After speaking with Jacob Wolf and pretty much everyone else I knew about it, I decided to try to organize a meeting at Random Row to try to inform the music community as to what was happening and to get people involved.  Jacob, Geoff Otis, and I sat in my living room one night and pored over the city code trying to find inconsistencies and what needed to be fixed.  For about 5 hours that night we talked and came up with all of our points of conflict with the zoning code as it stood.  Why was the city trying to regulate one form of art over another when it came to a place such as a restaurant making extra revenue?  For example, the argument that Tolbert was making was that when a place such as the Tea House has a show and people are there to see that show, in that moment the Tea House is a music hall and not a restaurant, because the tables are moved, and revenue increases due to drink sales, and the intention is different.  So then our thought was that when on First Fridays a restaurant opens itself up to becoming an art gallery, and its revenue is higher due to more people coming in to view art, how is that any different than a live band?  Also, as long as the restaurant is staying in compliance with capacity laws, and the sound ordinance, what did it matter if they had live amplified music or live non amplified music?  In the five hours that we talked and pored over city code we came up with a pretty solid case against the current zoning code.  We thought that if the city changed the definition of restaurant to include amplified music, that everything would be okay.  So Jacob talked to Ryan at Random Row and set the meeting up for January 30th.

In the week that followed we refined our points, and talked to anyone who would listen about the meeting.  We decided that there were two reasons for the meeting.  One was to inform the public as to what was going on, and the other was for us to create a core group of people to continue working with if we needed to fight the city.  We invited the mayor, and Jim Tolbert to speak, and made sure to have an open mic on the floor so that anyone interested could talk.  Matteus Frankovich recorded the whole meeting and made a small video that you can watch here, as a summarization.

The meeting was a great success and I feel like we met all our goals.  Not only were citizens more informed as to what was happening, but Jim Tolbert became informed as to what the music community wanted.  We started to form our core group of organizers, Maynard Sipe, Laura Galgano, Jacob Wolf, Geoff Otis, Nick Piazza, and myself.  Maynard is a musician and attorney who specializes in zoning law, and who also used to book shows at Trax in the 80’s and 90’s.  Laura owns and operates the Blue Moon Diner.  Jacob books shows at various places around town, and is also a musician.  Geoff is a musician and sound guy.  Nick Piazza helped with setting up a nonprofit website.  And well, by this point, you know me…

We started meeting about once a week to devise plans on how we could move forward.  We looked at other city’s zoning codes and tried to figure out what would be best for Charlottesville.  Maynard had meetings with Tolbert, as did Jacob.  There were meetings with various city counselors.  We set up cvillemusiclovers.org to try to keep the momentum going.  Jim Tolbert set up a plan to have a meeting at cityspace on February 15th to inform and get public input on any zoning changes.  There’s an article and podcast of the entire meeting at CvilleTomorrow.

March 8th was the next big city meeting.  The zoning board met to discuss Tolbert’s proposed plan and after about 2 hours of discussion decided to pass it with a few exceptions.  You can read the article Sean Tubbs wrote for Charlottesville Tomorrow at this link.

Belmont was not one of the neighborhoods affected by new zoning changes, so that means that under the law, live amplified music is not allowed in Belmont.  So that’s the next step, change the rules so that Belmont will be allowed to have live music.

As it stands, we have one more meeting with city council on April 4th  where they will either ratify the new changes or send it back for revision.  We’re working our hardest to convince them to ratify the new changes…

As for Belmont… There’s been a petition started by Toan Nguyen, owner of Cville Coffee, to keep live music in Belmont.  There will be more meetings focusing on Belmont after Council votes the new changes in.  And things seem promising.  After the zoning board met on March 8th, I spoke with some of the Belmont residents about proposing changes to the code for Belmont.  They were very reluctant to open it back up, but agreed that with certain rules in place they weren’t against having live music in their neighborhood, so it looks promising.

As for myself…  This whole process has made me find a new appreciation of our music community when I see how well we can work together to get things done.   I’m going to take a break from focusing on city issues for a couple of months if possible.  I want to focus on getting myself out of debt by working as much as possible, and focus on my band Northern Diver so we can release our record, and hopefully do some touring.

I look forward to seeing you at the next show!

Tags: charlottesville · feature · news · rants & rambles

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave // Mar 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I, for one, am so happy that someone as dedicated, passionate and hard working as Bailee is focusing her energy on this issue. Thank you so much for all of your hard work and dedication to these issues, Bailee. The Charlottesville music scene wouldn’t be the same without you…

  • 2 Sian // Mar 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks for the big round up, Bailee!
    I was at that Hole show in 94 too.
    S.

  • 3 Aaron // Mar 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Bailee, although we can’t thank you enough, THANK YOU! I haven’t been but a handful of years, but long enough to see a more recent wave of venues become extinct. The work of the 2011 Cville Music Activism Crew hopefully will allow the music scene to gain in momentum in the coming years rather than repeated looking to regain it’s footing.

  • 4 bailee // Mar 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    aww thanks guys!

  • 5 bailee // Mar 16, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    hey james! any way you could change the by line to bailee elizabeth? that’s my name now

  • 6 James // Mar 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    no problem. sorry about that!
    i wondered about whether to use that name actually — but the email in which you sent me the write-up said it was from “bailee hampton,” and yr name on the ABC list at the Pigeon Hole yesterday said “hampton” as well, so I went with that. but i’m happy to change it!

  • 7 bailee // Mar 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    forgot to change the email, and the pigeon hole is legal. still havent legally changed it cos i’m lazy, but yeah, that’s me now.

  • 8 James // Mar 17, 2011 at 2:07 am

    cool. I shoulda checked. anyhow, thanks for the awesome write-up

  • 9 sick of nailgun b.s. // Mar 17, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Whoever wrote this article has a horrible knowledge of correct comma usage and is in general a very poor writer.

    p.s. nailgun is an insular circle of self-worshiping hipsters. The rest of Charlottesville does not care about you, and many many musicians in this town are very sick of your opinions.

  • 10 James // Mar 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    dear Troll-
    I am very quickly losing my patience with you. I would once again like to invite you to stop reading this blog, rather than putting all your energy into complaining about everything we write. we’ll both be a lot happier.

  • 11 bailee // Mar 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    hey. i never said i was a writer. just a music lover, activist and all around awesome person.

    eat it.

  • 12 Gary // Mar 17, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    n ow that i red t hat h8ful comment i think i’m gonna throw in the towel guys…see u never…

  • 13 Matt // Mar 18, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Buried in that negative comment was a gift. There would be no funnier nor ironic (all the more perfect for you evil hipsters) a tagline for Nailgun than : “an insular circle of self-worshiping hipsters.”

    I think you guys should adopt it ASAP.

  • 14 James // Mar 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    ugh, the dreaded “H-word,” the all-purpose strawman that our generation uses to accuse each other of … pretty much anything, rather than actually articulating their thoughts or making a coherent argument. if there were a way to ban the use of the H-word on Nailgun, I would do so, but unfortunately I’m not that technologically adept.

  • 15 jon bray // Mar 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Srsly though, nailgun “media”? More like nailgun “festival of the dildo”. Fuck you, hipsters.

  • 16 James // Mar 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    wait, I thought YOU guys were at the Festival of the Dildo??
    isn’t that why everyone’s in Texas right now? no?

  • 17 Vijith Assar // Mar 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I could probably write a WordPress plugin for that — swap it out for a lolcat, maybe?

  • 18 Erky // Mar 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    LOL He Mad

  • 19 Jacob // Mar 18, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Lemme guess… anonymous dick-face here is deeply distressed that we never write about his/her shitty fucking band. Terribly sorry you need our validation to feel relevant. Whatever.

  • 20 Andy // Mar 18, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    i just plugged that comment into google translator and here’s what came up:

    hi, i think you guys have a cool scene and i’m frustrated and upset that i’m not part of it and it just adds additional misery to my already pretty much crummy life so i think i’ll resort to making a pointless shitty comment that adds absolutely nothing to the discussion.

    and fwiw, i’m pretty sure capshaw™ could read the writing on the wall and voluntarily withdrew the permit before it was denied and thus didn’t lose the $ or the ability to reapply within a year’s time. of course, the jeff finally became a reality, so no need to pursue it.

    carry on.

  • 21 bailee // Mar 20, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    thanks for the clarification andy.

  • 22 baconfat // Mar 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    I for one would like to extend an invitation to “sick of nailgun b.s.” to stop by my radio show on WTJU (Wednesdays, 2-4pm) so we can have a civil discussion/public airing of grievances about the “many many musicians” (talk about horrible knowledge of correct comma usage!) who are very sick of the opinions expressed on this blog, not to mention all the self-worshipping hipsterism that is totally insular and very exclusionary. I have a few things to say about it myself, but want to make sure we can give equal voice to all viewpoints; it’s the fair thing to do.

    If “sick of nailgun b.s.” isn’t man or woman enough to take me up on this offer, then at the very least he/she could reveal their true identity so we can make sure to add him/her to our annual Christmas card list (or Hanukkah, if that’s how you roll), if only to make “sick of nailgun b.s.” feel less excluded.

  • 23 Catherine Monnes // Mar 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    …wow, what truly bizarre negativity being thrown at you guys. too bad you have to spend any time fielding that while you’re doing all this REALLY appreciated work on behalf of the community. I seem to be more self-involved these days, and my hat is way off to y’all taking the time & making the effort for music in our town. Great job & THANK YOU.