Monday, June 11, 2018
When it comes to home buying and city planning, there's an adage that suggests "If you don't like the noise, don't move in next to an airport."
Today in Fayetteville, one might consider the applicability of another adage: If you want to operate a restaurant with live, outdoor music, don't build it next door to a well-established neighborhood, a surgery center, a credit union and other quiet businesses.
But that's exactly what JJ's Beer Garden and Brewing Co. did when it built a 12,000-square foot building for its headquarters, a restaurant/bar and an outstanding outdoor venue for live bands, which perform on Thursday nights in the spring, summer and fall.
Why only Thursday nights? Because that's all the city has given permission for. And in recent days, this business known and promoted as JBGB has used social media to rally its supporters, saying the city "has put the option of revoking our permit to have live music on the table to be discussed on June 11th."
That would be tonight's meeting of the Fayetteville Planning Commission, whose members have indeed suggested a revocation might be in order. Are they just being mean? Are they haters of live music, beer and fun? Is JBGB the victim in all this?
One might get that impression listening to representatives of JBGB, which has used the services of MoveOn.org to circulate a petition online. But there's much more to this story. A clash over noise has its roots in a permissive city government and a business owner who either had no idea how popular his business would become or just figured he'd be able negotiate his way out of any troubles after the business was established.
The beer garden and brewery is at Steele Boulevard and Van Asche Street in what once upon a time was known more widely as CMN Business Park. It's the 300-acre development that was part of a controversial commercial rezoning in 1995.
The front part of CMN includes Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy and other businesses, including restaurants. The western portion of the property wraps around the Centerbrook subdivision and its 51 private homes built mostly in the 1970s. So developers in 1995 pitched this to the city as a quieter part of the commercial development -- medical clinics, banks, office buildings. A bill of assurance pledged restaurants would not be a part of that area.
In 2015, however, the property owners asked the city for a change so a restaurant could be built. City leaders appeared eager to keep Fayetteville funky and approved the change. Construction of JBGB followed. Along the way, businesses and residents nearby said they were concerned about loud outdoor music. In Fayetteville, outdoor music is authorized by a conditional-use permit, which the city granted to JBGB.
The permit, however, allowed live outdoor music only between 6 and 9 p.m. on Thursday nights, a limitation JBGB owner Jody Thornton agreed to. So what's the problem? Nobody apparently considered his Thursday night national touring acts would need lengthy sound checks in the afternoons before JBGB opens. Those sound checks have riled the neighbors. Those loud afternoon sessions violate the conditions of the permit the city granted.
This column has been modified to eliminate a reference to noise complaints from a credit union. Gina Williams, CEO of the UARK Federal Credit Union in Fayetteville, said Monday her organization "has experienced no problem with ... noise levels" from JJ's Beer Garden and Brewing Co. at 3615 Steele Blvd. in Fayetteville and the business has gone above what most businesses would have to be good neighbors." In a June 11 column, Greg Harton referenced noise concerns from a credit union that were cited in a May 29 Fayetteville Planning Commission meeting, but those concerns were expressed in 2015 in anticipation of the restaurant/bar's operation. Williams said those issues never developed and credited JJ's for working to address any credit union concerns.
Representatives of a nearby surgery center say the music rattles their windows as they consult with patients and do procedures. And residents have no control over what used to be the peace and quiet of their neighborhood.
Those folks are more victims than the restaurant.
Everyone involved knew the restaurant project was a risky venture in terms of mixing music with the quiet surroundings there. That's the entire point of conditional-use permits. The conditions essentially say "Let's try this and see if it works out." Both sides agree to them. By design, conditional-use permits can be withdrawn if the grand experiment doesn't work out. Nobody is entitled to a never-ending conditional-use permit.
It seems everyone would like to save JBGB's concerts, but the city cannot and should not just ignore the needs of other businesses and residents. Thornton has so far appeared to just want what he wants. Even facing a hearing a couple of weeks ago on conditional-use violations, he and his lawyer suggested they want more concerts on Fridays and Saturdays. That's gutsy.
JBGB should have never been built where it is, but the city wanted it almost as much as Thornton did. Now, it's up to them to untangle the mess. But it doesn't matter how many people sign an online petition: Homeowners, medical offices and credit unions nearby deserve at least the peace they were promised between 9 p.m. Thursday and 6 p.m. a week later.
Commentary on 06/11/2018
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