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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

City's crime crackdown: Step a-w-a-y from the house concerts, Bett Padgett.

Posted by on Wed, Dec 9, 2009 at 10:44 AM

(Update: The decision is in; I have a post up about it -- here's the link.)  The question before the Raleigh Board of Adjustment on Monday: Are the house concerts hosted by Bett Padgett at Bill and Bett’s Little Lake Hill home—all proceeds go to the musicians—a very nice thing to do? Or an illegal business?

The city’s inspections department says they’re illegal, a violation of the rules limiting the types of business you can operate in your house. Little Lake Hill, off Dixie Trail, averages nine concerts a year with audiences of up to 100, says Inspections Chief Larry Strickland. Even if house concerts were permitted, which they’re not, the annual limit on “temporary events” is three.

“It’s a truly ludicrous interpretation of the code,” says Jack Nichols, Bett Padgett’s lawyer and, by the way, chair of the Wake County Democratic Party. There’s nothing business-like about the concerts; they’re private parties for a pro bono purpose. “If you take it to its logical conclusion,” Nichols adds, “the city’s position means that you couldn’t have more than three birthday parties a year in your home, or political fundraisers, or Bible study meetings.”

He didn't think of Tupperware parties, but them too, presumably.

Bett Padgett says she’s hosted 87 house concerts in nine-plus years, and never taken a dime for any of them. Donations are accepted at the door—usually $10—and the entire gate goes to the performer(s). Most of them are highly accomplished folk musicians who play small venues and appreciate the chance to make up to $1,000 in an evening. Refreshments are free, courtesy of the Padgetts and whatever the audience brings. Full disclosure: I’ve been to several of her concerts.

Little Lake Hill is an unusual property. What used to be two houses (and lots) are joined together, and the result is a spacious venue for meetings or parties. Bill Padgett, a longtime civic activist (and former Indy Citizen Award winner) has hosted many large meetings in his house, lately including the Dix 306 group that’s working to make the Dorothea Dix property a park if the hospital closes.

There’s plenty of on-site and on-street parking available for the concerts, and Bett Padgett says they’ve never had complaint from anybody about noise.

But someone did complain—anonymously—that the concerts were a zoning violation. Nichols thinks it’s somebody who doesn’t like Bill Padgett’s progressive politics.

The Padgetts collected 120 signatures from supporters last week at their annual holiday party (another gathering?), all verified by a notary since the Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial body.

City Councilor Thomas Crowder, who represents the Padgetts in District D, thinks they’ll win their case. But if they don’t, he says, the ordinance will need to be changed. “Otherwise, every Cub Scout who attends a regular meeting at somebody’s house will be a little criminal,” Crowder says, “and as an Eagle Scout, I can’t have that.”

The Board of Adjustment meets Dec. 14 in City Hall, beginning at 1 p.m.

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