Sylva pub cancels music acts following noise conflict with neighbors
No Name Sports Pub is no longer a music joint, at least not until a dispute between the bar and its neighbors reaches resolution. Owner Gregg Fuller says No Name saw its last regular act on Saturday (Jan. 17), and though it will still honor local band Porch 40’s Jan. 29 booking, that’s going to be it for a while.
“Stopping live music here at No Name is a drastic step,” Fuller said. “A lot of people are unhappy about it. But right now I have to take drastic steps. My ability to defend myself has been taken way. I’m guilty until proven innocent.”
At least that’s how Fuller feels about the town’s noise ordinance and policy that officers don’t need to witness the noise violation themselves to write a citation — reports from the neighbors are sufficient.
The ordinance, tightened in 2011 in response to complaints about noise at Soul Infusion Tea House and Bistro, prohibits “creating unreasonably loud, disturbing sound levels in the town, taking into consideration the volume, duration, frequency and other characteristics of the sound” and goes on to enumerate what some of those disturbing sounds are. Included among them are “the playing of any musical instrument or electronic sound amplification equipment outdoors or from a motor vehicle” between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., if it can be heard from an adjoining property and “the use of any automobile, motorcycle or vehicle so out of repair, so loaded, or in such manner as to create unreasonably loud disturbing sounds.”
Last week, Fuller told the town board that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it doesn’t it doesn’t spell out what, specifically, constitutes an unreasonably loud noise and that the neighbor-reported citations don’t offer equal protection under the law. He also pointed out that the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. rule applies to outdoor music, which he doesn’t have anymore.
However, Mayor Maurice Moody says he believes the rule applies if music created indoors is audible outdoors.
“They [the police department] would tell you that’s fair because they’re applying it to every establishment like mine in the area, but it’s not fair because it’s not equal protection. I’m the one that has neighbors I can’t keep happy, so I’m getting beat with that stick,” Fuller told the town board.
And he’s done everything possible to keep the neighbors happy, Fuller said. To comply with the ordinance, he stopped holding concerts outside on the patio, and he pulled out the pool tables, video games and jukeboxes from his back room and turned that into a stage. He planted a vegetative barrier between his property and his next-door neighbor’s and erected a fence.
“I understand that I have a neighbor or neighbors that are a thorn in Chief Woodard’s craw, and I understand that he should speak to them and address these neighbors’ concerns,” Fuller said, “but I believe this is a bad, bad situation because I don’t believe that there’s anything I can do to make my neighbors happy.”
Since May 2014, police have issued Fuller six noise citations, none of which he has paid. He doesn’t think he should have to, as he’s no longer playing music outside and likens citations written on the basis of neighbors’ reports to giving a speeding ticket via the same method.
So, the fee has now skyrocketed from $50 to $2,500 per occurrence, and police reported his unpaid tickets to N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement, which has threatened to take away his alcohol license.
Fuller’s request to the town was that they change the noise ordinance and reporting policy, rescind his fines and tell N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement there’s no need to pull his license.
Battered by noise
But this is no tale of a poor, persecuted business owner, said Drew Hooper, who self-identified himself to the town board as “one of the cranky neighbors.” He said he’s so tired of the “loud hollering and noise and cussin’” that he got a petition started against No Name. So far he’s got 50 signatures from neighbors who say they’re tired of all the noise.
“The three that didn’t sign it said, ‘I support it,’ and all of the ones that signed it said, ‘Thank you, thank you for doing it,’” Hooper said, adding that while the noise is pretty awful, he’s had fun chatting up neighbors he’s never spoken to before.
There’s no advantage to having a bar in the neighborhood, Hooper said.
“Only trouble, noise, health problems and drugs. I’ve walked around where I’ve found stuff in the parking lot, needles and stuff,” Hooper said.
Fuller vehemently denied that drugs are present at his bar.
Carl Queen, who lives just a short way up the road, said he’s in no way against music but thinks the noise has gone on long enough.
“Sitting in the living room watching TV in the summertime, I have to turn the TV up so I can hear the TV because the music is that loud, and I’m talking about 200 yards up the road,” he said.
“The only time we get peace and quiet there is about two times a year on Thanksgiving and Christmas when it’s closed, and that’s about the size of it,” agreed James Lupo, whose property is adjacent. “I sure hope something can be done.”
A rep for music
Gregg Fuller’s been a presence on Skyline Drive since 2010, when he opened No Name Sports Pub to fill a void in Sylva’s nightlife scene. His idea? Create a venue where the best bands from all over the country deliver their music straight to Sylva.
So, he signed a 20-year lease, sank about $225,000 into upgrades and bit the bullet to put in the 15- and 20-hour days necessary until he was ready for opening day.
“This area loves live music, and they wanted to see more and varied music, so I brought them in from all over the area, and we grew quickly,” Fuller said.
No Name has been bringing in acts five nights a week, representing a diverse set of places and styles. College students drive up from Cullowhee to hang out at No Name, where the music doesn’t stop until 1:40 a.m., and the bar is also popular with motorcylists.
Rob Crisp is one of them.
“I go there, hell, probably at least five nights a week,” he said. “It’s right down the road from my house.”
Crisp said he’s seen some wild bars, but No Name just isn’t one of them.
“You have people that have fun there, people that get drunk there, but it’s not wild-out-of-control. There’s not drugs and hookers,” he said. “People just go watch football games. People take their kids there. I don’t know where all the controversy came from, really.”
The music really isn’t loud enough to bother anyone 200 yards away, Crisp said, though he can see there being some issues with the motorcycles.
“I would say the biggest noise nuisance would be in the summer, and that would be from bikes coming in and out late at night,” he said.
He’s hoping that things get figured out soon, because without music his favorite bar wouldn’t be his favorite bar. It’s a late-night place because much of the bar’s clientele doesn’t even make it there until 9 or 10 p.m., and anyway it’s hard to justify bringing a band all the way across the country if they’re only going to play for a couple hours.
“Of course,” he said when asked if he’d go there less frequently without live music playing. “I would hate to hurt the business in any way, but that’s obviously the appeal.”
Not buying it
The town board didn’t share Crisp’s perspective, and neither did Chief Woodard.
“I just really don’t know what to say,” Woodard said when Fuller finished speaking. “I’ve tried working with him, and it just seems to get progressively worse. My bottom line is if you own an establishment like that, you need to have more control and a little more respect for your neighborhood.”
“I can sympathize with these people,” said Commissioner Harold Hensley, who spearheaded the ordinance tweaking in 2011. “I’ve had this same experience. Believe me, it’s hard to try to sleep with your head under a pillow.”
But Fuller pressed the board to consider changing the ordinance to more clearly spell out what kind of noise is and is not allowed. After all, he said, he’s zoned as a nightclub, so some level of noise has to be OK. But what level?
“I need to be able to protect myself. I need to be able to go into the parking lot with a noise meter,” he said.
Moreover, his attorney says so, Fuller told the board. Point-blank, his council has advised him to sue the town, sue the police department, sue his neighbors.
“Does it have to be in black and white until you do something?” Woodard asked. “Can’t it be right morally?”
“Your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins, so your music has to stop disturbing the neighbors. It’s as simple as that,” Hensley said.
“That’s a pretty good summary right there,” Moody responded.
Town Attorney Eric Ridenhour told the board that he sees no constitutional problem with the ordinance, as it simply gives the police the flexibility to enforce the code commensurate with the wishes of the community. He told Fuller that if he were his attorney, he wouldn’t advise a lawsuit — he’d advise being a better neighbor.
“You’ve been requested repeatedly by neighbors to stop intruding on their peace and enjoyment, and yet the music continues until 1:40 in the morning,” he told Fuller. “Instead of even stopping the music indoors at 11, you’ve gone on to continue to play until 1:40 in the morning.”
“Not only are you continuing to do it and you don’t care,” he added, “you’re refusing to pay the tickets and thumbing your nose at everybody.”
Fuller, meanwhile, told the board that it would be missing an opportunity to make their town the happening place if they squeezed him out.
“It used to be your citizens went to Asheville to hear live music,” he said. “Now Asheville comes here and they spend their money here. I’m trying to be an asset to the community.”
For now, though, No Name Sports Pub will be a no band bar.
“It’s either lose live music or lose my business,” Fuller said.