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Council approves outdoor music permit for Allan House wedding venue

Monday, December 20, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Opposing sides in the case of an outdoor music permit for the Allan House agreed to a resolution last week, offering proof that a qualified sound engineer and an hour-long Council recess can sometimes produce miracles in a long-contested permit case.


Allan House is a something of a zoning case nested within a permit appeal, which has spurred discussion of the downtown wedding venue, in particular, and a new zoning category, in general, for venues with live music. To untangle it, city staff had requested a delay on the case over the summer, which did not please disgruntled neighbors.


“Staff asked for that postponement request because we were seeking to ask the Planning Commission to amend the ordinance to deal with entertainment venues that take place outdoors,” Greg Guernsey, director of the Planning and Development Review Department explained to Council. “Right now that category pertains the same to an outdoor wedding as it would to a NASCAR race track. We’re trying to narrow that so that it wouldn’t be such a wide variation.”


So what Council heard on Thursday, after overruling a request for a further postponement from the owner of Allan House, was the appeal of outdoor music venue permit for an existing historic home that also serves as office space. Owner Dan Ross books Allan House on weekends, primarily for wedding parties, and the yard has been used for outdoor wedding receptions.


Neighbor Albert Stowell appealed the permit back in March because the home carried no zoning designation that would permit outdoor music. But the only zoning category Allan House could carry would be as a major event venue. Staff considered the outdoor music venue permit acceptable because the zoning on the property was commercial, making it roughly equivalent to a restaurant.


Stowell, a musician himself, said he wasn’t anti-music, but compared the Allan House receptions to “an industrial use in a residential area.” He called the experience of being down wind from Allan House a nightmare, even after installing $30,000 in new windows intended to soundproof his home.


The renewal of the outdoor music venue permit could be avoided entirely if Ross would simply move his receptions indoors, Stowell said. The property already carried a temporary use permit for entertainment events.


“He has approximately the same square footage inside the house,” Stowell said. “He has proper zoning for indoor entertainment. The band can be set up just like at Vintage Villa or at Green Pastures, where they have bands inside the building.”


Attorney Dowe Gullatt, representing Ross, noted that Allan House had diligently attempted to meet the 70 decibel requirement under the Outdoor Music Venue permit, measuring the sound levels at the edges of the property hourly, as required by the permit. But Ross had to admit that the location of the house was producing a tunnel effect for certain neighbors, a result that was familiar to many who live in the neighborhoods south of Auditorium Shores.


“I’ve hired acoustic engineers, and I’ve had them come out there, and because of the topography, because of the fact there’s two sheer concrete walls across from me, the fact that the topography goes up and down, there are sound problems that go – because the sound travels that way in a tunnel,” Ross said.


Ross was quick to point out just how many weddings would be in jeopardy – possibly up to seven – if Council was to put serious limits on the venue.


Ross’ ace in the hole, whether he knew it or not, was the city’s new sound engineer David Murray, who had worked with Allan House and witnessed the installation of a sound-proofing fence the night before the Council meeting. Murray was able to vouch for the soundproofing the fence would create and suggest additional measures that could dampen the sound even more.


At that point in the discussion, Council took a break for live music and proclamations. When Council returned, Stowell had agreed to withdraw his appeal on the condition that Ross installed a band shell in the yard, to be reviewed by city staff as being effective.


“This would then possibly come back on an appeal, at the end of the life of this (Outdoor Music Venue) permit, which is mid-March,” Guernsey said. “Disgruntled parties would then have the ability to appeal, have a hearing possibly similar to this again, if the owner goes forward and there’s an appeal by neighbors.”


The shell would be removable, going up and coming down between events. While it could not be constructed quickly enough for weddings last week, Ross did agree to have it installed by the end of this week.


Council, instead of withdrawing the appeal, chose to modify it with the conditions. Council Member Laura Morrison made the motion.


“Compatibility is a huge issue,” Morrison said. “But we have to be supporting and doing everything we can to be able to find that mitigation, hopefully to be able to achieve the compatibility, and I think that it’s happened on every single appeal except for one. That one actually was accepted and the permit terminated.”


The final vote on the modified permit was 7-0.

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