Sylva to get an earful over bar noise dispute
A showdown over noise at No Name Sports Pub is on tap for the Sylva Town Board meeting Feb. 5.
With their own respective petitions in hand, both the bar’s supporters and its neighbors who are upset about the noise they say constantly streams from the establishment are planning to flood the public comment session.
Many of the neighbors, led by Drew Hooper, have signed a petition declaring that “there is no advantage to this community by having this bar here, only trouble, noise and health problems and drugs,” while No Name’s supporters are urging the city to amend its noise ordinance to “require a specific decibel level and time of duration for sound before a violation [is] given.”
The dispute has been simmering for years, really ever since No Name opened in 2010 — the board also heard complaints about noise back in 2012.
But the most recent eruption occurred at the board’s Jan. 15 meeting, when No Name’s owner Gregg Fuller appeared on the agenda, asking the town to dismiss the noise citations he’d been issued over the last year. Fuller claimed the ordinance by which they were given was unconstitutional and told the board that, as a result of the unpaid tickets, the state alcohol board had threatened to pull his license.
Fuller concluded his speech by telling the board he’s sought legal representation and — though he doesn’t want to take it that far — is prepared to sue.
But a trio of neighbors was there as well, and they told the board that the fault lay with Fuller, that No Name was eating its just desserts after exhibiting a willful and repeated pattern of disrespect.
“Everybody that I talked to said, ‘Finally, finally somebody’s doing something,’” said Hooper, brandishing a spiral notebook containing his handwritten petition and 50 signatures.
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He assured the board that he’d gone to only a fraction of homes in the area and could come back with 100 signatures, easy.
Not that there are a whole lot of houses clustered around No Name. The property is zoned for uses that include nightclubs and is in front of Liberty Baptist Church, downhill from Harris Regional Hospital, and across the street from storage units and a commercial building.
In a follow-up interview, Hooper said he’d gone to only about 10 houses to get those 50 signatures, and that the list included children and members of Liberty Baptist.
But all of his support comes from door-to-door knocking, not the online leverage he scoffs at No Name for using. Though the pub has 400-some signatures to its petition, Hooper said, “He’s [Fuller’s] got ahead of me on the technology thing. I just go to the neighbors.”
Mary Harper, No Name’s music booker and bar manager, sees it another way. People love No Name, and they want to do what they can to save the music and late-night hours that are its lifeblood.
“There were people there waiting for us to get it done so they could sign it,” she said Jan. 26, the day the bar’s petition launched.
A Facebook page called “Save Sylva Night Life and Music Scene, No Name Sports Pub,” which Harper created to promote the petition, already has more than 700 likes, more than 500 of which came in the first day of its existence.
“I love what we’ve done with the music there,” Harper said. “It means a lot to me, so it’s pretty frustrating to be dealing with this.”
A decision with impact
The resolution will impact more than just No Name and its neighbors.
Keith Laguna, co-owner of the soon-to-open Tonic craft beer market on Sylva’s Main Street, is paying attention to how the dispute plays out. Laguna’s a musician — he’s played No Name before — and he’s planning to host music acts in Tonic’s fenced-in backyard.
“We don’t think it’s going to halt anything we do,” Laguna said. “It does just frighten me a little that they can shut you down without any real proof of anything.”
To be clear, the town of Sylva did not shut down No Name. The bar voluntarily decided to cut its music acts down from four or five per week to one each weekend. But Fuller made the decision as a pre-emptive strike to keep the noise citations — and a crackdown from the state alcohol board — at bay.
“It’s all gotta go until I can figure out what I can do to make the town happy,” Fuller said.
The situation with No Name has definitely motivated Laguna to get a jump on talking to his neighbors.
“There’s a level of respect you need to keep in mind,” when choosing a sound level, he said. “It’s quite possible that the music is very loud” at No Name, Laguna said, but at the same time Sylva is increasingly becoming a music town. In fact, Laguna moved there for the music.
“I discovered this town by playing at places like No Name,” he said. “When you have a situation like this, you’re not only hurting No Name, you’re hurting all the musicians around town.”
A balancing act
But the town board also has a responsibility to balance Sylva’s emerging identity with its history and the rights of its residents. Hooper, for example, has owned his property off Skyland Drive for 30 years, long before Sylva annexed the area. Sometimes, interests clash.
“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,” Sylva Commissioner Harold Hensley told Fuller at the Jan. 17 meeting.
But some believe that the town needs to take another look at the noise ordinance backing Hensley up.
“The town needs to look closely at their ordinance and see what objective standards they have in it to prevent it from being declared unconstitutional,” said Rusty McLean, a Waynesville attorney who advised Fuller on the case.
Sylva Attorney Eric Ridenhour, however, stands by the town’s ordinance.
“I wouldn’t want to be more specific, because then you’re going to end up punishing the people that are still being good neighbors,” he said.
The questions are as numerous as the opinions on their answers, and it will be up to the commissioners to sort out a solution over the coming weeks.