Renewal of Plan B's liquor license in question
Post by michael donnelly on 6/10/2012 5:00pm
The liquor license of a popular dance club in Madison is under scrutiny by the city.
Each year in June every liquor license in Madison expires. Most are renewed in bulk without discussion, but at the request of an alder a renewal can be "separated" from this bulk renewal. The Alcohol License Review Committee must explicitly vote to renew separated licenses, and citizens have the opportunity to speak for and against renewal.
Plan B at 924 Williamson St was first granted a liquor license in early 2009. Soon after the club opened, some neighbors complained about a number of issues they had, including ones related to noise, parking, and behavior of patrons.
That fall club owners Corey Gresen and Rico Sabatini began meeting quarterly with an advisory panel made up of members of the neighborhood and made several changes to accommodate the panel's requests. They leased 70 additional parking stalls, built a privacy fence, increased security staff, and made changes to the sound system and the building to limit sound outside the building.
While everyone agreed that the changes Plan B made were in the right direction, some neighbors were still bothered by the bass from the club's sound system, going so far as to move to sleep in different bedrooms. To ameliorate this, the panel wants Plan B to install 1/4" mass loaded vinyl (MLV) on the roof of the club, a recommendation from a 2011 report from an acoustical engineering firm. According to the report, "the good news is that, based on the [noise level] values determined, only a relatively small amount of attenuation will be needed to eliminate the problem."
Gresen and Sabatini believe that Plan B is already operating in compliance with the city's noise ordinances. Despite that they offered to install the MLV requested by the neighbors, estimated to cost $15,000, if the neighbors would support their plan for remodeling the second floor of the club so they could do both plans at once. The remodeling would not increase the capacity of the club, but according to Gresen and Sabatini the neighbors shot down the offer.
When Plan B and these neighbors were unable to come to an agreement, the neighbors asked Alder Marsha Rummel to have the ALRC separate renewal of the club's license. In a letter to the ALRC this spring, members of this neighborhood panel requested that the committee require Plan B to install the MLV in their room as a condition of renewal of their liquor license. "We are not trying to shut down Plan B," they wrote. "[T]he way Plan B has been operated has created a nuisance that has had a serious and negative impact on our families' health."
Rummel was disappointed that the neighbors and club owners couldn't come to an agreement. "As an alder, I've been trying to figure out a way to work with everybody to address the noise issues." She did request separation of the renewal, saying, "Nobody wants to take away their license. It's just a matter of fixing the building."
Following the separation of Plan B's license renewal, Gresen and Sabatini commissioned a noise study of the neighborhood that would reflect their changes since the last one. This report measured noise levels at several points in the neighborhood where panel members live. According to the report, "noise levels at each of the measurement locations were dominated by traffic noise." Comparing measured noise levels with noise ordinances, the report concludes that "Plan B does not exceed the City of Madison Noise Ordinance."
Rummel agrees that the club does currently comply with noise ordinances (with the exception of one noise ticket from March), but is concerned that the decibel levels specified in the ordinances don't capture the way low frequency sound behaves. Low frequency sound is transmitted more easily through objects, and according to the 2011 report, "the human ear/brain combination easily distinguishes [bass music] signal from that of sustained background noise such as produced by the nearby HVAC fan."
Gersten and Sabatini have gone door to door and say most neighbors have no problem and support the club. They have circulated a petition to demonstrate community support of the club. Rummel believes that the ALRC meeting will provide "a venue for people to say what they think, and then the ALRC will have to decide."
The ALRC will meet to discuss Plan B's license renewal and that of several other establishments on Monday, June 11 at 3:00 pm in Room 357 of the City-County Building.
Michael Donnelly (@gomi_no_sensei) is president of dane101's board of directors, covers local politics, and assists Shane with technical management of the site. He also serves on the board of directors of the Tenant Resource Center. Originally from Rhode Island, Michael moved to Wisconsin in 1994 for school and to Madison in 1999 because Madison is excellent. He's been involved in dane101 since October, 2005.