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The Music Stops at the Westover Market Beer Garden, For Now

by ARLnow.com September 13, 2010 at 2:55 pm 5,464 46 Comments

For most of the summer, the Westover Market’s beer garden served as a neighborhood meeting place where friends and neighbors could gather to drink a few beers, eat some food, and listen to a local musician play a few tunes. But now the music has stopped, and the big outdoor patio is limited (in terms of legal occupancy) to a measly nine customers.

The changes were mandated by the county’s zoning enforcement office, which acted upon noise complaints from two neighbors.

In terms of the music, Westover Market had neglected to apply for a live music permit before it started hosting performances. Such a permit requires county board approval. Market manager Devin Hicks says they have since applied for the permit, forking over most of the $1,200+ application fee in the process. The earliest the board could act on the application is November, at which point outdoor concerts are out of the question for all but the hardiest music fans.

In terms of the beer garden’s occupancy, it all comes down to the bathrooms. The market was built more than 50 years ago, and wasn’t configured with sit-down food service in mind. To get to the bathrooms, one must walk inside the store and through the back storage area. Rather unchivalrously, the ladies room is at the bottom of a dark, steep staircase. The gents room is further back on the ground floor, in the storage area. County regulations generally don’t allow such a setup, but the market had been granted waivers for an outdoor cafe for nine people. The 24-36 beer garden customers the market wants to host doesn’t fly with code enforcers, especially in light of the decidedly handicap-unfriendly ladies room.

Hicks says he’s been working with neighbors to find the right decibel level for the music. He says one older man who lives three blocks away has been the lone voice of protest against the concerts, which run from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. In at least one instance, Hicks says, officers showed up at the beer garden after the man called police.

Hicks said he would like to have bathrooms that were compliant with regulations, but is hoping to be granted another waiver based on the age of the building. He has collected hundreds and petition signatures and hired Arlington zoning attorney Barnes Lawson (of recent dog mural fame) in his effort to get the county to relent.

But Arlington County Zoning Administrator Melinda Artman says that public pressure, including the “flood” of “very polite” pro-beer market emails in her inbox, doesn’t change the law.

“The community needs someone who’s going to fairly and accurately enforce the law,” Artman said. “It’s very nice to have the emails, but it won’t change anything… in terms of my action.”

Local blogger Miles Grant is making a cause célèbre of the beer garden issue, thanks to posts with titles like “Public Enemy #1 in Arlington: Fun” and “Step Up To Save Westover Market Beer Garden.”

Grant, a staunch Democrat and a self-described “bleeding heart liberal douche,” asks: “What does it say about Arlington County’s zoning & permitting process that a few complaints can completely silence the music that hundreds of people had been enjoying every week?”

For the time being, the market is allowed to keep the beer garden open, with up to nine customers (although we counted one or two more than that during last night’s Redskins game). Hicks hopes to have the occupancy issue resolved soon. Meanwhile, his lawyer has pointed out a new potential problem: a mural on the wall outside the market depicts people dancing. Could that count as an advertisement, like the dog mural in Shirlington?

  • Earlier this year, the Westover Village Civic Association put out a newsletter that mentioned the beer garden.

    “Now, local residents have an additional place to go that provides an informal atmosphere where neighbors can meet each other and extend bonds that might not exist if they only saw each other on the street or perhaps gardening in the yard,” the newsletter says of the beer garden.

    “On any given weekend night, there is an eclectic mix. Most interesting is that there are lots of young families and plenty of little kids running around. Some of them are dancing to the music and some are making their own fun.”

    The newsletter also noted: “A concern has been expressed about the noise on live music nights, but hopefully this issue will prove manageable.”

  • Skeptical

    As someone who lives in a neighborhood where a couple of residents think it’s A-OK to crank up amplifiers in their back yards on party nights, I sympathize with the “two neighbors” who complained. There is nothing as miserable as hoisting the window on a lovely cool evening only to hear the thump-thump of unwelcome music invading the space inside your home, which you can’t exactly pull up like a tent and move to a quieter location. I really hoped to be done with that kind of thing when I left college decades ago.

    I do empathize with the attraction of a neighborhood place to down a few beers and socialize outdoors in nice weather, and hope they can iron out the issue with the permit for more than nine people, but live outdoor music that can be heard through the open windows of people’s houses is not an acceptable neighborhood fixture. Plus, I’ve passed the beer garden myself on errands to Westover when bands were playing and they were uniformly bad.

    IMHO, NO always trumps YES when the NO comes from people whose peace, quiet and quality of life are at issue.

    • Thes

      The mural depicts dancing? Sounds legal to me unless the Market gets a dance hall permit. Then get out the blue tarp!

      • Cheryl Hightower

        and what is wrong with dancing??

    • Not Skeptical

      Skeptical, please turn off your air conditioner. Your outside unit is making too much noise and it’s disturbing my peace and tranquility as I prefer to keep my windows open to enjoy a cool breeze.

    • Westoveran

      Westover and Washington Blvd are over my back fence. I think I have heard the Market’s music twice, but I can’t be sure.

      I do have a very strong recollection of hearing traffic on 66 as I lay in bed. And I clearly hear the metro pulling into the station at night.

      And those clock bells.

      But I enjoy beer outside with my fellow Arlingtonians. Better there than on your curb!

    • Cheryl Hightower

      The music always ended at 10pm. and was of a very low bass quality, folk music generally. I would imagine that traffic created more noise than the faint sound of a folk guitar.

  • Lou

    Since Eric Ploeg sold Luna to Lost Dog, we’ve sorely needed live music in Westover. I’d prefer something louder and less kid-oriented than Westover Market, but it was a good try. The place is small enough to support acoustic-only performances, maybe that is the way to mollify the neighbors.

  • Want to press the county into working with the Westover Market to find a resolution to the issue and bring back the Beer Garden? Show your support by joining the Save the Westover Beer Garden Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/savethebeergarden.

  • KateKirk

    Maybe the nine people can start a singalong and just keep annoying old man buzzkill, although I never understood why people wanted to stand around on the sidewalk outside a grocery store anyway.

    • Skeptical

      Why are you automatically on the side of people who are making a homeowner’s life unpleasant in the name of “fun”? Just have to wonder.

      • Thes

        Perhaps because her livelihood doesn’t happen to be dependent on reaching the most affluent audience in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

        • Skeptical

          Does affluence have anything to do with deserving tranquility inside your own home?

          • Not Skeptical

            Help me understand: If I open my windows to enjoy a cool breeze, does this mean I should not have to hear the church chimes and bells on the hour? They can be so unpleasant. Have you contacted the church on Patrick Henry Dr. to quell those infernal bells?! Also, I hear some children laughing too loudly while they play in the neighbor’s backyard – they must be almost 9 years old. I shouldn’t have to put up with that, right? Their laughter and fun disturb my happiness and I should be considered more important, right?

            Skeptical, you live in a community. Your attitude is not one of comity but of selfishness. You don’t even seem to be interested in the county government working with a small business to enhance the community in which you live. I hope you are not a neighbor of mine.

          • Neighbor

            Hear, hear, Not Skeptical!

          • Skeptical

            Cute. Ha ha ha. I hope to bejeezus you’re not my neighbor, either. Try to get a grip — people have different thresholds for noise. Just about anyone can handle a steady murmur from AC or traffic. Church chimes and bells happen every once in a while. Hours of rhythmic boom-chuck from music, especially amplified music, that you cordially hate constitute another thing entirely, not just a nuisance but a repeated “f*** you,” and NO ONE should be forced to tolerate that in their own living rooms, or have to look forward to hearing it on a regular basis, indefinitely, in the house they have worked and paid for. I guess this is the “community of neighbors” that Arlington boasts about — saying “hey, listen to the noise we make having FUN or you’re just a selfish old fuddy-duddy and we’ll make louder noise to serve you right.” Where are the adults?

      • Keep the Music

        Skeptical: What about that infernal metro clicking and clacking along the tracks? That goes every few minutes, 18 hours a day. The point is that it appears that one or two people are effectively setting community standards and you are supporting that. If you live in a house near the Westover strip, near I-66, and near metro I think the standards of noise should be a bit different. It is not like live music being played in a cul de sac in Clifton where a homeowner might have a higher standard to expect different noise levels. I live in the area because of the Westover shops, the metro, the highway, teh schools – and I accept the different noise levels that come with that.

        • Lou

          You’re missing the point though. It’s not the noise that got them shut down, it’s the fact that they did not get a permit. All the talk about relative noise is just blowing smoke. I expect the county will not look favorably on their application since they a)proceeded with live entertainment without the required process and b)received complaints while operating without a permit.

          Also, everybody that moved into Westover in the last several decades knew their was an interstate and rail system making noise. No complaining about that is allowed. Same for the church bells, which I like, when they play, which is not very often and certainly not in the evenings.

          • Not Skeptical

            Lou, Devin is a young entrepeneur. He made mistakes but his mistakes are correctible. He’s trying to do the right thing and for the County to continually block his efforts is clearly punitive. The growth of the Beer Garden has been very organic, I’m not sure there was a detailed business plan, it just caught on and attracted its surrounding neighbors, save for a couple of inflexible chronic complainers. If Arlington County can’t work with a young entrepeneur who contributes to the fabric of his community then Arlington County is terribly misguided and sending out the wrong message to other small businesses/entrepeneurs.

          • Thes

            I’m confused. How is the County “not working with them”? Isn’t the County processing the application at this very moment? If “working with them” means letting the business owner violate the law until such time as the law is changed, how long should an illegal business operation be allowed to continue while we wait, say, for them to apply? I’m not asking this question to be mean-spirited. I’ve been given “warnings” by the police for minor infractions myself. Clearly there is some threshold below which we’d rather people get warnings rather than citations. What’s that threshold, if not alerting the business owner to the problem and asking them not to do it again until it’s legal?

          • Not Skeptical

            Thes, zoning regulations, by some degree, weren’t complied with by a young entrepreneur – it could be any entrepreneur. Does that mean the county should destroy a meaningful enterprise that adds vitality and texture to a community or should the county recognize the positive impact and make the determination that assisting this young entrepreneur in getting the proper permits and credentials is in the best interests of the vast majority of the community? It’s my belief and the belief of all of my surrounding neighbors that the county should be “working with” Devin and all entrepreneurs to maximize compliance to regulations and maximize the benefits to the community.

          • Lou

            The Market is now working with the County. The whole process was corrupted when the Market made the first step in the absolute wrong direction. Somehow that is now the County’s fault for not working with them? I’m sorry, that is just dumb.

          • Not Skeptical

            Lou: What’s so dumb about the County clearly articulating exactly what any entrepreneur needs to do to proceed as efficiently and effectively as possible? The county does many positive things but when trying to move through the process, their communication is not always clear and 3 different people may give you 3 different answers to the same question. You probably think it’s just semantics but the County has just as much of an obligation to its taxpaying citizens to work with them as we do working with our County government. It ain’t rocket science, Lou.

      • Cheryl Hightower

        I mean seriously?? Did that music really impact you more than traffic, metro, the usual sounds of living in an urban area? Hard to believe!

    • charlie

      thanks kate. in terms of ambience, um, this place is an alley. heck it used to be a road and parcel pick up, back in the day. i guess it is the people who show up who make it special.
      all that said and done we have rules and people need to follow them. if people don’t like them, change the people in charge.

  • Jack

    $1200 seems really high for a application fee. but i guess when you are as anti-small business as the arlington county board… it’s just par for the course.

    • Cheryl Hightower


  • MB

    Miles (among others) appears to be unable to appreciate the concept and mechanics of zoning and permitting. If a permit is required to do something, you get the permit and THEN you do something. Putting up signs, building additions, opening up a live music venue. You don’t start with the activity and then get around to asking for a permit for it. I support both live music in Westover and a sidewalk sign for Screwtop. But that doesn’t make the County zoning and permitting process something to be ignored. Basic local gov’t, people. Not terribly complicated.

  • JimPB

    Prime case of well intended but excessive regulation impairing a small, struggling community business.

    I’ve been around the beer garden on a number of evenings when there was music, and it was never so loud there that I couldn’t converse with my companion. I could also hear the music a block or so away, but this was largely because of the absence of other noise. The sound level of music was never close to objectionable, and having lost hearing in one ear, I am sensitive to and complain about loud sounds. With one exception, all of the music was a delight to hear. Silence is not always golden; it can be the sign of an absence of life. Bring back the sounds of life — and community.

    And hey, we’re all adults and can cope with the challenges of getting to the bathrooms, should their use be required.

    • Katie

      Very sensible. Thanks, Jim.

    • Burt

      the area the beer garden is in once was just a walk way with park benches who actually owns that area ?

  • Sorry for the neighbors

    Businesses need to follow the rules. The zoning and permitting process is there to make sure that no neighboring parties are adversely impacted before “permission” is granted. It’s not their right to get permission automatically.   Perhaps the neighbors have an unreasonable expectation of quietude, but that doesn’t give the business permission to flout the rules. And if the noise is indeed unreasonable, why should the homeowners have to sacrifice their quality of life so that others can “have fun?” I’m sure they’ve worked hard to buy their homes. And I wouldn’t want a block party on my street every night even if it were for charity. I’m not familiar with the Westover situation and it does seem odd that sandwich boards and a few tables at American Flatbread get denied when Whitlows gets to open 300 person rooftop bar close to homes with no questions asked. In Clarendon it seems there are no rules for the massive bars but the little guys like Screwtop, Flatbread, and Galaxy Hut get more hassles. The county does indeed seem to have some problems reasonably permitting live music and outdoor seating. I have no idea if this is one of those times. They may or may not have an appropriate location for the business they want to engage in; but one thing I know is that calling the neighbors NIMBYs and old men is just nasty and uncalled for, they have done no wrong. I’d feel more sympathetic to the business’s supporters if they could at least try to see the other side of the issue for those who have to live with it on a daily basis even if it is only the closest few homes. 

    • Cheryl Hightower

      look, we live in an urban area in Arlington. if you want a strictly residential area, move to Gainsville where there is literally NOTHING going on…..

  • Chris

    I’ve stood on the Washington Blvd sidewalk in front of the Westover Market Beer Garden while a band has been performing and been able to have a conversation in normal tones with my wife and kids. While I agree that permitting processes must be followed, I have a hard time believing that a neighbor – presumably on the other side of the parking lot – was seriously harmed by the evening music. If someone buys a property adjacent to a shopping district, school, or some other public facility, they should anticipate the traffic and liveliness that comes with such locations.

    Nonetheless, the bathroom situation is legitimate. They should have one or two unisex one-seaters on the first floor, and in a location that doesn’t require someone to walk through a storage area. It seems beyond common sense that if you want to have a pubic facility, you better have facilities for the public to use.

    • Katie

      I agree, Chris, and I like your typo.

    • Cheryl Hightower

      i think the key is neighboring restaurants having to now compete with the market…..

  • arlington

    The County needs to be working with small business — not charging $1200 so a guy can play an acoustic guitar. This sounds like a bureaucratic mess. Nine people can be present at the beer garden? Come on. Is there any government official in Arlington capable of cutting through the bureaucratic mess and supporting small businesses? Or is Arlington destined to be a place only friendly to Cheesecake Factory-esque, generic, corporate chains that have departments who can navigate through the bureaucracy?

    Expand the number of people allowed ASAP, help mediate the issue with the two grumpy neighbors (who have concerns that need to be addressed, even though they may be grumpy neighbors), and give the market a temporary permit conditioned on fixing the bathroom issue. Done.

  • Not Skeptical

    It seems to me that Ms. Artman, the Arlington County Zoning Administrator, is mighty selective as to who and when she chooses to “fairly and accurately enforce the law”. When a person makes a statement like that, they immediately put themselves in a glass house because every decision then can be scrutinized. I hope Ms. Artman has fairly and accurately enforced the laws since she has been in her position because the county has not always done so. I had a zoning issue with a neighbor in 2004 and Arlington County chose to allow the transgression of my neighbor to stand without even a review.

  • Most frustrating comment from the County commissioner was, “It’s very nice to have the emails, but it won’t change anything… in terms of my action.”

    Zoning laws need to be enforced, but when hundreds of community members ask their elected officials to work to find a resolution that works for all parties, the county needs to listen to its constituents, not dismiss them.

    • Lou

      That is exactly what is happening. The market made the huge mistake of not going to the county first, but now they will apply for their entertainment permit and the board and staff will have time to consider the application and the residents will have a chance to speak before the board. This is how things should have proceeded in the first place, and all of the stress and loud talking about this issue are solely at the feet of the market for not understanding what they needed to do.

  • OuttaWestover

    Glad I moved from Westover 2 years ago…those friggn’ church bells were driving me nuts. That, and the pretentious, nosey neighbors.

  • Debbie

    Well, the live music was a treat! And the family atmosphere was very nice as well. Funny, I would rather have music from 7 to 10 Wed through Sat…then METRO AND 66 24/7! Yes, rules do need to be followed and I hope all of this gets ironed out. I am sure the Westover businesses miss the extra income that the music shows provided. There was always a lot of foot traffic in the area during the shows.

  • people come on this is a great place for friends an families to get together and have some fun. that is what we are all about. all th people who cry to the cops are just nothing more then non-Americans. man up westover…this place rocks.

    • charlie

      Mike, being American means it is a democracy and the majority rules. If a bunch of people want together and party they should abide by the laws that the majority have set. And so should the business. So why don’t YOU man-up and accept that.

  • Burt

    westover market had way more than 9 people tonight on patio ……guess they think they are better than everyone else and can throw it in face of the county…

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