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Raleigh to tinker with delicate balance of sleeping, partying in Glenwood South

Patrons enjoy drink, dance, music and conversation at Cornerstone Tavern on Glenwood South in Raleigh.
Patrons enjoy drink, dance, music and conversation at Cornerstone Tavern on Glenwood South in Raleigh. 2013 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

The problem in Glenwood South is pretty simple: Some people like to party at 2 a.m. Some people like to sleep at 2 a.m. And people of both types have flocked to this lively stretch on the edge of the downtown core in the last few years.

The combination is resulting in cranky complaints, and they point to a question bigger than the neighborhood: Can the same few blocks peacefully host all three parts of the “live, work, play” mantra, even as new apartments and condos stack ever higher?

In an effort to keep the peace, the city of Raleigh is set to launch a yearlong pilot program in Glenwood South with a public hearing before the Raleigh City Council on Nov. 5. During the past decade or so, the trendy area has been transforming from a faded business district into an area with high levels of both residential and business growth – and resulting friction.

Council members responding to the issue are proposing a program – including decibel measurements and fines as high as $5,000 – that will make it easier to ask a bar owner to lower the noise. The argument among some owners and residents involved in the new plan is that open lines of communication will ease tensions.

“This is our neighborhood. This is where we live, work and play,” said Ann-Cabell Baum Anderson, owner of The Glenwood Agency, a real estate services company.

“We all have to sleep – we all have to derive revenue from our businesses – and we all want to enjoy where we live.”

Under the pilot program, a complaint registration system would be open for public use, and the city would publish contact information for the loudest businesses.

If complaints don’t bring satisfactory changes, neighbors may ask the city to bring in a mediator. And if mediation doesn’t work, police would monitor decibel levels, potentially issuing fines and eventually revoking sound permits.

Clubs and bars would have to apply for those permits before they could play amplified late-night music in the new “hospitality district,” which stretches from Peace Street on the north end to Hillsborough Street on the south.

Similar permits already are required citywide, but the new program would make the permits simpler to acquire by doing away with the contentious quasijudicial application process, which usually involves hired attorneys. (The new permits, however, will cost $500 instead of the current $250 for the standard “amplified entertainment permit.”)

“The idea is to ... put this adversarial, adjudicated process more on the backside, as an appeal – like it’s the nuclear option,” said David Diaz, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.

“Now there’ll be more of a focus on trying to resolve things up, even having a mediation process.”

A constant target

Specific numbers from the city on the number of noise complaints on Glenwood Avenue weren’t available Tuesday. But Baum Anderson said noise in the district is a constant topic for residents of the scores of rentals her company manages, including those on Glenwood.

Residents’ view from behind balcony windows can be like a “silent movie,” or people-watching from the comfort of home. But the bustle can become a nuisance, she said, when bands’ music creeps too loud, or revelers party too long in the post-closing surge to the street.

The controversy could even be something of a generational clash, according to Jim Peters, president of the Responsible Hospitality Institute, a California-based nonprofit that helps communities and nightlife businesses learn to coexist. Younger partygoers often bring the initial redevelopment interest to an area.

“Young people tend to be on a later schedule that’s different than older people’s – but our modern-day society often is driven by the demands of the older population,” he said.

Many city governments’ first reaction is to crack down with large police presences, but they run the risk of stifling nightlife and the area by proxy.

The answer may be to zero in on details. A designated taxi area could unclog Glenwood’s streets, cutting back on ambient noise. An attentive officer might discover that a particular bar is serving patrons past their limits. Improved parking could keep the crowds off nearby streets.

Changes of that sort could occur down the road, Diaz said. For now, the goal is to keep residents, city officials and business owners in closer touch, and to fix the small things.

If a bartender gets a text, she might turn down the speakers, or shut the windows, solving that night’s problem – at least according to the proposal under consideration.

To keep owners in line, the new policy allows fines escalating from a $500 first offense to $5,000 on the third, followed by a one-year suspension.

Current noise permits in the district will be converted to the new hospitality permit.

The new permits allow music to be played with doors and windows open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 11 p.m. on other days, though they set volume limits between 55 and 60 decibels at the edge of the businesses’ property.

Dan Lovenheim, owner of Cornerstone Tavern, which includes a large patio area, said he already has put the new policy’s open-communication principles into place.

“Since we started having this conversation on Glenwood Avenue,” he said, “... the complaints have gone down significantly.”