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Music is a Menace?

Posted on by Townsend Myers

Natural disasters can be inexplicable in their randomness. A tornado will rumble through a neighborhood destroying everything in its path yet leaving those on its periphery seemingly unscathed. But the truth is, those left standing on the margin are now weaker, more vulnerable.

I want to write today about how certain politicians are damaging institutions of our city – institutions vital to our culture.

Drive down St. Claude Ave for a night of live music. Pop into Kajun’s, then Hi-ho, then move down to the Always Lounge. Then you can drive by and gawk at the damage done to the club called Siberia by the mayor’s music venue tornado. Same street, same row of blocks, one club is denied the mayor’s music permit over a “zoning dispute.”

Love the Circle Bar with its fun location and unique music space. Only it’s no longer a music space. After nearly thirteen years of hosting some of the most eclectic music in town the club took a short sabbatical to affix repairs to a historic building. During the six months closure their music license lapsed. No problem right? Big problem; the mayor’s office has denied their relicensing due to “zoning issues.”

The legendary Donnas closed but was reopened by another ownership group who were granted a license that was then revoked because six months had passed from the closing to the reopening.  What do these venues have in common? Complaints from neighbors? No — that was the Bacchanal and they were granted a license after having been caught originally operating without one and guilty of health code issues. What these clubs have in common are “zoning issues.”

What are these mysterious “zoning issues”?

Zoning laws have come and gone in numerous cities where the lines between thriving entertainment districts and residential neighborhoods have been traditionally blurry.  This tightrope walk led to the Nonconforming Use Law which keeps neighborhoods and politicians from being able to shut down live music venues by changing the zoning laws to prohibit them.  Basically the law protects these spaces if:

1. They were in existence prior to the enactment of the restricting ordinance;

2. They must have been lawful to begin with;

3. They must be of substantial nature so as to warrant constitutional protection of a property right.

Yet the mayor’s office has used abandonment, the six months lapse, as an issue to thwart this law. Apparently if you close down for six months to do repairs, you’ve abandoned your property and given up your rights.

Traditionally the state has sided with the proprietor, forcing the city to prove abandonment, but Stacey Head proposed an ordinance that would put burden on the property owner.

First this then the mayor’s crackdown… As Owen Courreges put it, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but when two events feed into each other so perfectly that a connection is nearly impossible to ignore…”

What is the mayor’s game? Read more.



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