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City Council loosens music restrictions

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Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 10:17 pm | Updated: 3:45 pm, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

The Charlottesville City Council approved two music-friendly measures Monday that would ease restrictions on live performances.

The council gave final approval to changes to the city’s music-hall zoning code that would allow live amplified music at restaurants in most of the city’s mixed-use and commercial corridors.

Previously, many restaurants were required to pay $1,500 for a special-use permit or restricted from having music altogether, but the new zoning rules allow live music as a “by-right” use.

“We got pretty much 95 percent of what we wanted tonight,” said blogger and music advocate Jacob Wolf.

The zoning rules still prohibit live music in commercial areas of Belmont. The council prohibited music as an accepted use there last summer after noise complaints.

The council also introduced an amendment that would tweak the city’s noise ordinance for the downtown business district. Currently, it’s a violation to make a sound that’s audible above background noise from 125 feet or more or sound measured at 75 decibels from ten feet or more. The amendment would do away with the former method of enforcement, making the ordinance enforceable only by an actual decibel measurement of the sound.

Mayor Dave Norris said the ordinance change is a way to make enforcement more objective.

“It’s very nebulous the way it has been,” said Norris.

The amendment comes after local musician Peter Markush held an impromptu fiddle performance at the March 7 council meeting to demonstrate the vagaries of how the noise ordinance is enforced.

Markush did a brief number on his fiddle, then asked councilors whether what they had just heard should be illegal on the Downtown Mall, explaining that he had been told by police that he was violating the noise ordinance.

Norris said he didn’t think so, and directed city staff to revisit the enforcement methods.

Wolf said it’s a common-sense change that would prevent police from telling performers they were being too loud without an actual measurement.

The noise ordinance was approved on first reading, and will likely be adopted at the next meeting.

Wolf said he was pleased with the council’s responsiveness on the music-hall issue.

“This has been really cool,” Wolf said. “We started out very pessimistic about getting involved in local government.”

Norris also declared the Charlottesville Derby Dames the city’s “official roller derby team” for their promotion of health and fitness, self-esteem in women and charity work.

Derby Dame Maisie Osteen, aka Rox Ann Stone, gave the mayor a token of the team’s appreciation: a jersey with the name “Nunchuck Norris” on the back.

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