Live music behind the Downtown businesses on the 500 block of East Wilson Street — the Essen Haus, Come Back In and the Up North bar — has been silenced for now.
Bob Worm, 74, who has owned those establishments for 40 years, said he has had live music for 26 years and began presenting more of it outside during the pandemic. It has helped keep him going, he said.
But after getting a citation from city building inspection ordering him to stop all outdoor music due to city zoning codes, Worm ended it Monday.
The citation says that Worm is allowed to have amplified music only during six permitted events per year and not on a recurring basis.
“Zoning’s got involved in it and they want to call the rules,” he said.
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Worm said the entertainment license he has had for 40 years allows him to have music and that he’s willing to negotiate on what days and times he offers it.
City building inspector Matt Tucker said outdoor music isn’t allowed under Worm’s liquor license and zoning approvals with the exception of six events identified in his zoning requests.
Had Worm not complied, he would have been charged $75 for any inspections that didn’t result in full compliance.
Tucker said Worm would need approval for any outdoor sound at the site, including piping music out from an indoor sound system.
Kristina Pirius, Worm’s daughter and general manager, started a petition Tuesday, “Save Come Back In and Up North live outdoor music,” on change.org, which as of Thursday afternoon had more than 850 signatures. In the petition, Pirius details the ways she has attempted to diminish the noise.
One stage serves all three entities with 30 tables in the back parking lot of the businesses, Worm said.
He said he offers music five to seven times a week, and increased outdoor music early in the pandemic when bars were unable to seat people inside.
Worm said he ends outdoor music between 8 and 9 p.m., even though he was under the impression it could go until 10 p.m. “We’ve always made it until 8:45. That was our general rule for the last 26 years.”
Jennifer Zilavy, assistant city attorney, said in evaluating the situation she looked at other venues in the city that have live outdoor music.
“Every single one of them has a limit on what the outdoor music can be,” she said, adding that the Edgewater hotel has a limit of 35 events per year and also has a decibel level it cannot exceed. The High Noon Saloon has music on its patio from 5 to 7 p.m., mostly limited to Thursdays.
“So, this seven nights a week was really excessive in terms of outdoor amplified music, particularly given the location (next to) residential areas,” Zilavy said.
She suggested moving the music indoors, which she said is authorized under both Worm’s liquor license and his zoning permits.
Three neighborhood residents expressed their frustrations during a contentious neighborhood meeting with city officials held over Zoom Monday evening.
Bob Judy said he has lived in a building on the corner of East Main Street and South Franklin street for more than 20 years. “It does get frustrating,” he said. “The music has ramped up and got much louder in the last couple of years.”
On a Sunday evening, he might want to sit inside and watch TV, but the music is too loud, he said during the meeting.
Judy said that the previous night, he had gone near the property with a decibel reader, which maxed out at 84 decibels. For comparison, some dishwashers, food blenders, garbage disposals and diesel trucks operate in that range, according to Temple University’s department of civil and environmental engineering.
“On the other hand,” he said, “I do want to support our small businesses. I want all those businesses to be a success, but we have to live in this neighborhood together.”
Conversations to get the matter resolved have broken down, Judy said.
“The bottom line is we are being blasted,” said Juli Wagner, 55, who has lived on Franklin Street since 2007. “We have to close our windows, we have to close our doors.”
Wagner told Worm that when police officers are called to his businesses it’s because neighbors are “beyond trying to work with you directly.”
Madison’s Central District police Capt. Harrison Zanders said officers get repeatedly called to the patio due to noise complaints, and have had more calls this year than last. He said he came to the meeting with high hopes, looking for a solution, and added that he was walking away disappointed that there was no consensus.
Ald. Brian Benford, 6th District, called it an “intergenerational conflict,” with younger people wanting more live events and music. “Maybe I wasn’t around when that first approval came through,” he said, “but I can tell you, it was never intended to be a mini-Summerfest ground abutting these neighbors’ houses.”
Bob Mayville, 57, said he welcomes the music and when he expressed that opinion on an email chain with other members of the neighborhood, he said he got excluded from subsequent emails. For that reason, he didn’t know about Monday’s meeting.
“I have a condo that faces directly out over the parking lot and can see and hear everything that happens down there,” Mayville said.
He said he’s in favor of public entertainment and appreciates the music bookings. When he’s home, he often opens the windows and listens to it.
“I don’t think it’s too loud,” he said. “There have been moments of loud, but the vast majority of it is at a reasonable outdoor volume.”
Where to park it?
Tucker said another issue is that, in the past year, Worm has set up tables where accessible parking stalls had been.
How cars get into and out of parking stalls has to be approved by the city’s Traffic Engineering Division so nothing blocks Fire Department access, for example, Tucker said.
He added that Worm went through an approval process correctly in 2013 to put in a sand volleyball court where some parking spots had been.
In a phone conversation Tuesday, Worm said he already moved the offending tables from the restricted parking stalls.
At the meeting, Worm’s lawyer, Robert Procter, said he wishes the city would have connected with them ahead of time before the citation over the music was issued.
Procter said when Worm got his zoning permit in 1996, he was told that to have outdoor music he had to have an entertainment license, which he got. He has followed city directions ever since, Procter said.
“To state the position 25 years later that, ‘Oh yeah, you’ve been in violation for 25 years,’ is kind of unreasonable,” he said.
Tucker said he had a follow-up meeting with Worm on Tuesday, which was much more amicable. Another meeting is scheduled between Worm and the city planning director on Wednesday, but Tucker said he’s not exactly sure what Worm wants to talk about.
Zilavy said Worm must submit documents to amend his current zoning plan so the plan matches what he currently has set up outside. She said he was informed of the need to do that last fall.
She said he also needs to submit a plan for his outdoor music, which will go to the Plan Commission. That body will then hold a public hearing before making a decision on the issue of outdoor music.
Worm said he’s unclear how much neighbors will tolerate. “Maybe the neighborhood only wanted one night a week, two nights a week. Who knows?” he said. “Now things are twice as hard to get solved.”
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