On Monday night, Broad Street Cafe, the red-and-tan brick café that has served music, coffee, beer and food in Durham's Watts neighborhood since 2006, will host one of its biggest rock shows yet. The radiating pop trio The Generationals are up from New Orleans, while the rag-tag roots-and-rock band Hacienda makes its way from Austin. And then Tuesday morning, the owners of Broad Street Cafe will sit before the Durham County Board of Adjustment, requesting that they be able to keep those shows going.
Waldo Fenner owns two homes on Clarendon Street, which runs behind the café, valued at more than a combined $170,000. Last March, Fenner filed a complaint to the Durham City Council about the high noise and traffic stemming from the café. Fenner lives in one of the houses, but it wasn't bothering only him, he says. He rents one of the properties, too, and the club's business makes his business difficult.
"My former tenants moved because they couldn't find parking, and regardless of the situation, the city has allowed them to continue operating as a nightclub despite my concerns," says Fenner, who filed a complaint with the Durham City Council in March 2009 after multiple attempts to get the Durham Police Department to intervene. Almost a year later, he's frustrated by the lack of response.
Indeed, since 2006, Broad Street has operated as a nightclub in a district zoned so that, to host music after 10 p.m., a special-use permit is required. What's more, Durham's noise ordinance bans "the playing of any radio, phonograph or any musical instrument in such a manner or with such volume, particularly during the hours between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of persons in any dwelling, hotel or other type of residence." Broad Street regularly violates those terms, and now it's seeking the permit that will allow it to maintain its late-night gigs by becoming a nightclub.
In December, after hours of testimony by musicians, café owners and Fenner, the Board of Adjustment voted to continue the case, hoping that the neighbors might be able to solve the problem.
"The board recognized there were a few issues that needed to be worked out before making a final decision," says Michael Stock, Durham City-County Planning Department's senior planner, of the December public hearing, "and the board wants to see if the venue can work it out with the neighbors and then report back."
Paul Brock, who became one of the café's four co-owners in 2008, says that they want to work with Fenner but that they've had no other complaints from neighbors. Bob Schmitz Properties, for instance, rents several homes on Clarendon Street, including one adjacent to Fenner. An agent with Bob Schmitz says the company has had no complaints from its tenants regarding parking or noise.
"We're doing everything we can to comply with Mr. Fenner," says Brock. "We have a proposal, and we will do what is reasonable."
"Would you want a nightclub behind your house?" Fenner asks. "The majority of the people on this street are renters, not homeowners. They can pick up and leave any time they want."
A former resident of 1117 Clarendon St. says she wouldn't write Fenner off as just another bellyacher. "Personally, the noise and parking never bothered me, but Mr. Fenner is in a vulnerable position on the corner, and it does bother him to have trespassers," says the neighbor, who asked not to be named because she fears harassment. "Years ago, he had a trespasser cross through [the rental property's] backyard, and the dog, who was tied up, bit the trespasser. They had to destroy the dog. For him, it's just built up."
Brock is confident that the board will side with his business, which hasn't stopped booking bands. Their online roster currently slates acts into March, though Rusty Sutton, a local musician who acts as the club's talent buyer, says he's already booked shows "deep into May."
"Since the issues with the Board of Adjustment have come up, we've continued to book consistently and have made genuine attempts to ramp our booking into a new level, hosting acts on all levels from around the Triangle and further," says Sutton, who insists that the busy artistic community in the Triangle makes places like Broad Street essential. "There are shows on the schedule right now with Red Collar, Floating Action, The Love Language and Dexter Romweber & The New Romans, to name a few."
Local musicians have rallied behind the café, which not only hosts rock shows but also hosts open mic nights, jazz and blues jams and children's concerts. In advance of the December hearing, saxophonist Brannon Bollinger was one of several players to circulate a petition on Broad Street's behalf. "Even if you don't play or listen to music at Broad Street," he wrote in an e-mail, "please sign this petition to keep musicians like me employed there."
Indeed, Broad Street Cafe is just one of a handful of active music venues in Durham. For the past three years, it's served as an anchor of the city's growing Troika Music Festival. Kyle Miller, one of the festival's organizers and the owner of the local rock label Churchkey, says he'd hate to see that option disappear.
"There are not a lot of venues in Durham—really a scarcity—and only a few decent-sized music venues, like The Pinhook and Duke Coffeehouse. To lose one would be a drag," he says. "It's been great that Broad Street Cafe has been looking to get more involved with the community. They're treating bands really fairly, and they've been a good partner with us."
The hearing to determine the future of Broad Street Cafe happens Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 8:30 a.m. in Durham City Hall's Committee Room, on the second floor. For details on a new music venue coming to Durham, visit www.indyweekblogs.com/scan.