Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

pic19634

On the weekend, you could mosey over to the Westover beer garden, quaff a few and groove to the sounds of live tunesmiths. But first you have to sit through two years of the Arlington community consultation process, add your name to the petition numbering 1,500, bone up on methods of noise regulation in the Internet age, and then debate minority rights in our local democracy. Small price to pay.

On the weekend, you could mosey over to the Westover beer garden, quaff a few and groove to the sounds of live tunesmiths.

But first you have to sit through two years of the Arlington community consultation process, add your name to the petition numbering 1,500, bone up on methods of noise regulation in the Internet age, and then debate minority rights in our local democracy.

Small price to pay.

The county board this past Saturday spent three hours preparing for a dramatic, unanimous overruling of its professional staff’s recommendation. The board is ready to grant, on an experimental basis, a rare outdoor live music permit to Devin Hicks, the young and popular manager of the Westover Market’s newly configured restaurant.

Live singers, amplified in ways that county technicians and legal eagles can properly monitor, will be performing in the open air in season on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, no later than 10:00.

It’s good news for Westoverians and visitors who cherish the urban village, community-building aspects of the venue that began amateurishly and became a surprise hit.
It’s bad news for the close-by neighbors, four of whom spoke in opposition (one of them lives a mere 110 feet from the garden).

They oppose the “unwelcome noise,” as Chris Clarkson called it, because it carries into their homes until they must jack up the volume on their own TVs or radios. It allows a grocery store to determine their young children’s bedtimes, another complained. Using barriers to muffle the sound doesn’t work, another said. Plus, the manager has not acted in good faith, said Tad McCall, when he’s been asked to cut off the music on time.

Indeed, the staff’s reasons for recommending against a permit included poor compliance with past county directives (on limiting the current number of seats to nine, for example), as well as proximity to single-family housing, the area’s low-density zoning, and difficulties of enforcement (relying on neighbors’ complaints and vague rules).

Staff checks with Falls Church, Alexandria and Fairfax found that only Fairfax permits restaurants to regularly offer live outdoor music, and Arlington in the past has granted only one exception-to Sobe’s in Clarendon.

But the beer garden’s lawyer, William Lawson, said Hicks shouldn’t be blamed for noncompliance when the rules have been utterly confusing. He noted the routine outdoor music at Rosslyn and Crystal City, and from high school bands during sporting events.

He and Hicks demonstrated to the meeting a live Internet video stream of the cashier at the Westover market, with a promising decibel monitor visible (barely) on the county’s projection screen.
This led the discussion deeper into a morass about whether such self-enforcement of the noise ordinance would be admissible in a court challenge, and whether the market could pay for extra county inspectors to work evenings.

The views of the majority (13 speakers) favoring live music at the beer garden were captured by Dennis Dineen, who said Hicks is a “creative type” who may not be not good at following rules, “but let’s give him his shot.”

Board member Walter Tejada said, “We live in a densely populated area, and noise is part of our lives.” When Tejada sits at home and hears a Metro train or kids shouting at a swimming pool, he likes it. Such sounds confirm that “life’s out there.”

 

 

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]