ALRC: Plan B and Segredo both keep liquor licenses
Post by michael donnelly on 6/14/2012 10:05am
Updated: we were in error about a quote and have removed it from the story pending verification.
Monday's special session of the Alcohol License Review Committee to consider those license renewals separated for additional scrutiny was enough of a monster that we split the writeup in two. Yesterday you read about the Orpheum, Osaka House, Little Manhattan, Taqueria Guadalajara, and Whiskey Jacks. Part two covers Segredo and Plan B.
Segredo - 624 University Ave
On April 21, there was an incident at Segredo. A patron lost his gun in the bar, and Segredo's head of security brought the gun home and only later reported it to the police. Following that incident, Alder Mike Verveer requested separation of the bar's liquor license renewal on behalf of the Madison Police Department.
On May 11 there was a shooting in the 600 block of University Ave, outside Segredo, but MPD Captain Carl Gloede said the separation was only because of the incident in the club and that the shooting outside was unrelated. Verveer later corroborated this, noting that he had already requested separation before the shooting happened.
Gloede was concerned about MPD's ability to trust Segredo. He described the events of April 21 in some detail. Key was that after the individual who lost the gun caused a disturbance, police arrested him and found that he had an empty shoulder holster. When the officers returned to Segredo and asked about the gun security guards at the bar didn't say anything about the gun that had been found there. Without that evidence, the police "couldn't do much with the suspect," according to Gloede.
Since then, three Segredo staff members have been charged with obstructing an investigation. "That evening, in that particular instant, there was a breakdown in responsibility of the staff of Segredo," said Gloede. Since then he has met several times with Michael Hierl, owner of Segredo.
ALRC Chair David Hart asked Gloede if MPD would support approval of Segredo's license. Gloede spoke thoughtfully and said he believed he would but wanted to hear the conditions on the license first.
Jeff Mauer, owner of Fresh Madison Market, and Rosemary Lee, a former employee of Segredo, both spoke in favor of renewal. In addition to praising Hierl's running of the bar, each expressed concern with the people who congregate outside Segredo. Mauer said that "there's a clear difference between the people inside and the people outside." Inside were students, according to Mauer, and outside were people wearing bandanas and hats on backwards. He said the safety of the bar was a credit to the staff.
When Hierl rose to address the committee, he first talked about the positive effect of last December's capacity increase. Being able to let in more people at once let them lower ticket prices by 25%, and the business has exploded in popularity. Since then Segredo has had twenty large shows with a budget of $10,000 each.
Hierl then moved on to discuss the situation outside the bar. "We need a loitering ordinance to give the police the tools to ask people what they're doing there when they're obvious not there for good." He complained that dealing with people outside the bar is "a battle against people that it's not a bar owner's battle to fight."
Captain Gloede steered the conversation back to the incident that resulted in separation. He told the committee that Segredo's agent Shayne Miller was on site the night of the incident. Miller said he had trusted the head of security to deal with the situation but accepted responsibility for the issue.
Hierl defended Miller, whom he intends to retain as manager, and returned to the topic of Segredo's sidewalk. "If we allow these people - my mother would call them sketchy - to hassle people on their way in, that's just not right." Describing the patrons of Segredo, Hierl said "We have college students and young professionals coming here, people you'd be proud to have in your home." Hierl said that an upgrade to Segredo's dress code - they now don't allow any hats in the bar - has helped and that he has worked with other area bar owners to identify individuals who have caused trouble and keep them from entering any of the bars. Still, he called again for increased police presence and a loitering ordinance to deal with those outside the bar. "It's a whack-a-mole situation. There's no place for them to go. They can't get in any place. They don't fit the dress code."
Alder Verveer was somewhat concerned about Hierl distancing himself from what happened outside Segredo's door. "I think you left the impression that license holders have no obligations regarding the area outside their establishments." Assistant City Attorney Roger Allen explained, "Business owners are responsible for collateral effects of their business." Gloede said that all bars have to manage their lines and be responsible for patrons entering and exiting. Hierl countered, "The people my mother would describe as shady characters are not our patrons."
Verveer returned the discussion to the incident inside the bar on April 21. He asked Gloede if Miller was one of the individuals charged with obstruction. Gloede said yes. Verveer asked if he'd prefer a different agent for Segredo, but Gloede said he wasn't saying that and that he was comfortable with Miller. Hierl described a change to Segredo's organizational structure. Previously, the head of security reported to Miller; now all department managers report directly to Hierl.
After Hierl's final assertion that "this is not reflective of our operating history in Madison for more than two and a half years," Verveer moved approval of renewal of Segredo's license with two conditions: that the license holder appear before the September meeting of the ALRC to present the bar's updated employee handbook and that they submit weekly incident logs by email to MPD. Hierl asked for the reporting only to be required for six months, but Verveer declined to add a time limit and said Hierl could return to ALRC if the reporting proved to be a hardship.
The committee was unanimous in approving renewal with these conditions.
Plan B - 924 Williamson St
Alder Marsha Rummel requested separation of Plan B's license renewal, concerned that negotiations had stalled out between the club owners and neighbors disturbed by bass from the club's sound system. She was clear that no one was objecting to the renewal of the license, but some neighbors hoped the committee would place a conditions renewal that the owners install sound proofing on their roof. "I support renewal, and I would like a plan of action."
This special session started at three p.m. and didn't arrive at the discussion about Plan B until after seven. After several hours in a room with too many people and not enough air a good number of speakers had left, but there was still a large crowd of people waiting to speak for or against Plan B.
Alcohol Policy Coordinator Mark Woulf echoed Rummel's statement, agreeing that no one - not the city attorney, MPD, or any alder - requested non renewal. He said the issue was noise and not the liquor license.
Plan B's lawyer, Connie Anderson, spoke first. She said Plan B was operating within state law and city ordinances and that neither the club nor building owner Chuck Chvala were in a position to improve the building beyond the standards required by law. Melinda Miller, an acoustical consultant, walked the committee through the report she had prepared for Plan B. Miller's report showed that decibel levels from the club's music were only slightly higher than the sound of traffic.
Alder Lisa Subeck pointed out what proved to be the key issue of the evening, that the issue with bass is not the audible sound but the vibration. She asked Miller if the study covered bass. Miller said they did meter for low frequency audible sound and that she didn't believe that what she saw was loud enough to cause vibration, but she didn't specifically measure it.
Alder Bidar-Sielaff asked if the owners had tried to compromise with the neighbors who were disturbed by noise from the club. Co-owner Rico Sabatini said they had offered to install the insulation as part of a larger remodeling project. The neighbors, concerned that the remodeling included a second floor space for smokers, objected to the plan.
Mark Steichen, the attorney retained by several of the club's neighbors, asked the committee for more time to answer Anderson and Miller's points. He drew the committee's attention to two Madison General Ordinances related to noise. 24.08 defines decibel levels that are not permitted and served as the basis of Anderson's argument. Another, 24.04(2) prohibits "excessive or unusual noise in the operation or use of any radio, stereo or other mechanical or electrical device, instrument or machine, which loud, excessive or unusual noise tends to unreasonably disturb the comfort, quiet or repose of persons therein or in the vicinity." He believes that Plan B is in violation of this ordinance because the bass vibration from their sound system prevented the neighbors he represented from sleeping.
For over an hour, individual citizens gave testimony for or against Plan B. Several neighbors described the loud noise and heavy vibration they experienced every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and how it had negatively affected their lives. Others said they have no trouble sleeping, even in the house right next door to the club. A number of other residents of the area spoke in support either of the club or the sleepless neighbors. Patrons, employees, and friends of Plan B said how much the club means to them. An impassioned Chuck Chvala, owner of the building, received a round of applause when he said he was embarrassed this issue had taken up so much of the ALRC's time.
A number of times the tension rose in the stuffy room. Plan B co-owner Corey Gresen described all the things they had already done and expressed disappointment that they had gotten nothing for it. When Steichen spoke, he said they had gotten a liquor license. One neighbor implied that the owners turned down the music when they knew testing was going to happen. The club operators rebutted that they deliberately didn't know when testing was going to happen. On one occasion, Sabatini was doing a security sweep in the parking lot and encountered an inspector from the Department of Health using a different kind of sound meter; he had not known the inspector was ever coming, let alone that night.
One of the neighbors was disappointed that some of Plan B's supporters had accused the neighbors of opposing the club due to homophobia, a point he found particularly frustrating since he has a male partner. Later in the evening, one of the club's supporters took responsibility for writing the petition that contained language implying this and apologized for it.
A couple of speakers in favor of Plan B said the area was mixed use and that it was unreasonable to expect there not to be any noise. "If silence is what you want, don't live right next to a commercial stretch of road. You can go elsewhere." At two sets of neighbors have lived in the neighborhood for quite some time - one household since the early 90s and another significantly longer. They described moving there and working to make what was previously a rougher neighborhood into what it is today, and they clearly felt hurt at the suggestion that they move.
Steve Lawrence, a patron of Plan B, accused Alder Rummel of "bending over for a squeaky wheel" when she requested separation of the license renewal based on some neighbors complaints. His voice raised, he threatened to vote against her in the future based on how she had handled this issue.
When the public testimony was done, Alder Bidar-Sielaff asked one of the neighbors why he thought the insulation on Plan B's roof would make a significant difference. "It's a nightclub with a wooden roof," he responded. "Something's got to be done."
Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy said she didn't believe the owners of the club had commissioned the second report to thwart the process. The owners had learned the roof might not be able to support the acoustical insulation, and they were investigating further whether it would really solve the problem. According to the report, it was unlikely to make a significant difference.
Sabatini asked Zilavy for her impressions when she and a building inspector went out to asses the noise themselves. She said she went down to the club and to the block of Jenifer Street where some residents are disturbed by the noise to see what she could hear. Inside the club, measurements on a sound meter were high. At the property line it was still audible but within the legal limits. On Jenifer she had trouble hearing anything from the club and that traffic on Willy St and noise from people walking down the road were more audible. She then called the club and had them turn the music up all the way, and it was still okay. She gave the neighbors her phone number so they could call her to come down when it was particularly bad, but the one time someone called she was out of town.
Alder Verveer asked Captain Gloede if Plan B had been given any noise citations other than one in March of this year. Gloede believes that is the only one since the club opened. There have been numerous other complaints, but officers who reported to the scene exercised their discretion and decided not to issue citations.
Subeck sighed and said, "Obviously this is incredibly complicated." She asked Rummel what she hoped the committee would do. Rummel would like the owners and neighbors to investigate a compromise with the owners putting an addition on the building and installing insulation.
Subeck asked Sabatini if he would install the insulation if he were sure it would work. Sabatini sounded frustrated when he responded that they had already sunk a lot of time and money into attempts to appease the neighbors. He felt that it wasn't fair for them to have to spend a lot more - the estimate they received was around $15,000 - to try to fix something that isn't an issue to most people. He's also worried that it won't help and they'll have wasted the money.
Committee member and acting chair Tom Landgraf asked if the owners had tried turning down the volume of the sound system until the neighbors were happy and then determine if that level is too low to run their business. Gresen said they had tried that; when the music was that quiet, patrons complained.
Woulf has been at every neighborhood meeting about Plan B for the last year and a half and thinks the relationship between Plan B and the neighbors is getting worse. "My concern is that the issue continues to disintegrate without intervention of the ALRC."
After everyone had said his or her piece, Bidar-Sielaff moved to renew the license with the condition that the owners continue to work with the alder, landlord, and neighborhood association to address the noise issues and that they report on their progress at the November ALRC meeting. She encouraged Plan B's owners and their supporters to be reasonable with Rummel, explaining that part of an alder's job is to listen to all his or her constituents. She summed up something a number of speakers and committee members had touched upon: that perception of noise is "a very difficult issue to solve because it's so subjective." She likened it to pain in being different for different people.
The motion passed unanimously without additional discussion.
Rummel was satisfied with the outcome. "The benefit was to get everyone a forum and get some outsiders involved."
Some of the neighbors looked disappointed that the committee hadn't required specific action from the club owners.
Sabatini was satisfied and optimistic. "We look forward to moving forward."
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.