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As the inaugural Tom Tom Founders Festival launches today, one co-founder has made sure the month-long event produces a lot more than art and music.
Oliver Platts-Mills, the Tom Tom Founders Festival innovation director
Oliver Platts-Mills is responsible for the festival’s innovation series, a new grassroots effort to celebrate the area’s talents and brand Charlottesville as the hip place to be an entrepreneur. He and Tom Tom co-founder Paul Beyer both grew up in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area.
“When we started talking to Paul about Tom Tom — this concept of a music festival on the Downtown Mall — Paul realized that he wanted it to be more than a music festival, to include art and some other creative aspects,” Platts-Mills said. “I’m a big proponent of when you want to talk about creativity broadly in Charlottesville, that we ought to include innovation.”
When he’s not planning a major new festival, Platts-Mills is an analyst at Investure, an investment management firm for nonprofits and university endowments. His wife, Natasha Sienitsky, also a Tom Tom organizer, serves on the Charlottesville Planning Commission.
“If you were just to look at music and art, you’d be missing out on a great deal of creative work,” Platts-Mills said. “And I also thought that the synergy between these different things is very, very interesting and exciting.”
Tom Tom kicks off with a block party at the McGuffey Art Center at 5 p.m. today, in honor of founding father Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, and concludes in a gala field day event May 13 at the Ix Building.
The innovation programming includes a series of free talks culminating in a keynote presentation on May 11 and a “locavore expo” on May 12, the same two days as the music portion of Tom Tom.
Every Monday during the festival, four resident entrepreneurs and artists will hold informal talks at the Tom Tom headquarters at 105 South First St. Every Wednesday, the conversation shifts to examples of local innovation with panel discussions at The Gleason at 126 Garrett St.
Soundboard: Charlottesville's news straight from the source.
Each Friday from 4-5 PM, tune in to hear area journalists and guests discuss local news, culture, and community issues in the Charlottesville area. Whether we're talking about city politics, scientific innovations, or the local music scene, you'll get to hear in-depth discussion about stories that matter.
Soundboard is co-hosted by WTJU's Lewis Reining and Charlottesville Tomorrow's Jennifer Marley.
The March 16 show features, soon to be regular contributors, Giles Morris & Laura Ingles (C-Ville Weekly) and Sean Tubbs (Charlottesville Tomorrow). Plus, guests in studio were on hand to talk about plans for McIntire Park East, the local Hip Hop scene, and the Tom Tom music festival.
The panel also dives in to news about the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, the debate about chloramines in our water, and city/county budgets.
Future programs will include other local reporters working at WTJU, Charlottesville Tomorrow, C-Ville Weekly, and The Daily Progress.
We hope you enjoy it, and we look forward to your feedback!
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Tuesday, June 7, 2011
At a public input session Monday, area residents called for trails, athletic fields and a multi-use pavilion at the future Biscuit Run State Park as state officials and a 27-member advisory committee sought suggestions.
The meeting, held in Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building, drew about 80 people who had the opportunity to weigh in on the draft goals for the park as well as specific amenities and uses.
“It is interesting to me how many different interests there are in the community with this park,” said Danette Poole, the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s planning division director. “In the long run, we can’t be all things to all people, but we will take their feedback into consideration with the resources available at [Biscuit Run] and factor that into the state’s mission for our parks.”
Poole described for the audience the results of the 2006 Virginia Outdoors Survey that ranked public demand for outdoor recreation areas and facilities.
“Walking for pleasure has been at the top of the public’s list,” Poole said. “Visiting historic sites is second.”
Since the planning effort began in January, the advisory committee has heard from a variety of special interest groups seeking to use the 1,200-acre site located south of Charlottesville between U.S. Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.
Performing arts advocates have sought facilities for dancing and music. The draft plan promised to “evaluate feasibility” for both an amphitheater and a multi-use pavilion.
“We have a very strong music culture in this area,” said county resident Sara Greenfield, speaking in favor of the pavilion. “People come here from all over the country to be part of the music culture.”
Active recreation users have also sought to shape the park’s plan and connect it to the larger community. Bikers, hikers and equestrians have all provided input and the draft plan calls for a system of trails to meet their needs.
“The children would like you to include opportunities for exploring, hiking and camping,” said Foster. “Please plan for pedestrian access to the many communities that lie on the west side of the Biscuit Run stream.”
“I think there is a lot of temptation when building a state park to focus on a central parking area with closed [trail] loops,” said Schoppa. “Adjacent to so many residential areas, there are real opportunities to create access points that are purely trails and not roads.”
Before being acquired for a new state park in December 2009, Biscuit Run was the largest residential development ever approved in Albemarle County. The project would have included up to 3,100 homes, a 400-acre county park, a school site, playing fields and major road improvements.
Albemarle officials have been trying to secure a commitment to new athletic facilities and a connector road throughout the planning process, two proposals that state officials have said would be unusual for a state park.
Bob Crickenberger, Albemarle’s parks and recreation director, serves as a member of the Biscuit Run advisory committee and was one of the officials who has called for inclusion of new athletic fields.
“We are strongly encouraging that athletic fields be a part of this master plan,” Crickenberger said in an interview.
Representatives of local youth sports organizations said Monday they also want to see athletic playing fields added to the park. Large facilities like those provided at Darden Towe Park and the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle’s North Fork soccer complex have been unable to keep up with local demand for field space.
“Biscuit Run State Park could help alleviate the severe shortage of athletic fields in this region,” said Rick Natale, SOCA’s President. “I know having athletic fields in a state park is not common in Virginia, but there can be ways to partner with local organizations. Natural grass fields could be added with minimal impact on the environment.”
“The final decision about park uses won’t be made tonight,” Poole told the audience. “We will be taking feedback up until July 1.”
The next meeting of the state park advisory committee will be on Aug. 1 when they review a draft concept plan. A second public meeting on September 19 to review the park’s draft master plan will follow that.
The DCR expects to complete a master plan by the end of the year. Implementation of the plan, and the ultimate opening of the park, will require new funding from the General Assembly.
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Charlottesville City Council has taken the first step toward amending the city’s zoning code to allow live amplified music as a by-right use in most of the city’s commercial districts.
The city’s current rules require a special-use permit for any restaurant that wants to offer live music, but the council directed staff in January to study whether that regulation should be changed.
“We got into this issue because after we made changes to the noise ordinance last summer, our staff started noticing the number of places that were advertising music,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
Initially, many members of the music community thought the effort was an attempt by the city to regulate free expression. They banded together on Facebook through a group called Charlottesville’s Concerned Music Lovers.
However, the city reached out to the group and held a series of meetings with restaurant owners and musicians to get their input on rewriting the ordinance.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of changes in March that would allow restaurants in most commercial and mixed-use zoning districts to offer music without needing to pay $1,500 just to apply for a special-use permit.
“The net result of this is that all but two or three of the current establishments that we know about that are playing music will become by-right and the things that would regulate their activities are the noise ordinance, the occupancy limits that are on them and the ABC laws,” Tolbert said.
However, restaurants hoping to offer music in the Central City, B-2, and B-3 zoning districts will require a provisional-use permit. That permit is less expensive and can be revoked if the restaurant is not in compliance.
Any restaurant in the city’s South Street district would continue to need a special-use permit because it is mostly surrounded by homes. That permit also requires a public hearing before the Planning Commission and the City Council, whereas a provisional-use permit would not.
There will be no change in the city’s Belmont commercial corridor. The council removed music as an allowed use there last summer in response to complaints from neighborhood residents about the now-closed Bel Rio restaurant.
Local musician and promoter Jacob Wolf thanked the city for working with the music community.
“Those of us in the music community started out with a very pessimistic opinion about our chances about getting some kind of change that reflected what we wanted,” Wolf said.
“But after a very productive and constructive and democratic series of meetings we really have arrived at something that is about 90 percent of what we were looking to have happened,” Wolf added.
Wolf also encouraged the city to rethink its stance against allowing live music in the Belmont neighborhood commercial corridor.
“I understand that there are potential problems but I think this is where the provisional-use permit would have a purpose,” Wolf said.
Mayor Dave Norris said the music community’s mobilization on the issue was a testament to open government.
“I think it’s an excellent example of what citizens can do when they get involved and sink their teeth into an issue and actually make positive change happen,” Norris said.
The council will hold a second reading of the ordinance at its meeting April 18.
By Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously to implement a measurable decibel standard for controlling outdoor amplified music at area wineries. The action is a victory for the local farm winery industry and overturns a recent recommendation from the planning commission.
Forty people spoke during a public hearing Wednesday which saw winery owners and supporters pleading with the county for an objective standard that they could self-police to maintain good relations with their neighbors. However, residents next door to Keswick Vineyards continued to argue for police enforcement of the existing “audibility standard.”
That current “audibility standard” states that music played at weddings and other events should not be “audible” 100 feet over the winery’s property line. Neighbors said police need to be involved since the zoning department is not open for business when most of the wedding events occur.
However, staff recommended a measurable decibel standard be used because it would be more objective. Music that is louder than 60 decibels during the day and 55 decibels at night would be a civil violation and would carry a fine.
“Audibility is a more restrictive measurement,” said Amelia McCulley, the county’s director of zoning. “We’ve already established a reasonable community sound standard for the rural and residential districts.”
McCulley said if a complaint were filed under the new policy, zoning staff would make themselves available to attend the next scheduled event to take readings with sound equipment.
“If they are in excess, we would inform the winery and make them turn the music down,” McCulley said. If they did not comply, the county would seek an injunction in general court.
However, Keswick Vineyards’ neighbor Bert Page was adamant that the county continue with the audible standard.
Albemarle County Police Chief Steven Sellers
"If they want to shift to a decibel standard, my wife and I offer our farm to the county for the purpose of conducting tests to determine if a decibel system can be applied to our situation," Page said.
Police Chief Steven Sellers told the board that he felt zoning inspectors should continue to handle complaints because his department cannot take on new burdens.
“We already have a thinly stretched police department,” Sellers said. He said winery events, which generally take place on Saturdays, occur during one of the police department’s busiest times.
Philip Strother, attorney for Keswick Vineyard owners Al and Cindy Schornberg, said the planning commission’s recommendation would set the county up for a potential lawsuit.
“We’re suggesting to you tonight that the audibility standard is unenforceable and vague and is subject to constitutional challenge,” Strother said. “What one person can hear, someone else may not be able to.”
Bert Page lives adjacent to Keswick Vineyards
Art and Lee Beltrone live next door to Keswick Vineyards, and both spoke in favor of retaining the audible standard.
“We are not opposed to farm wineries,” said Lee Beltrone. “We are opposed to outdoor music at farm wineries if it disrupts the peace and tranquility.”
Art Beltrone said a complaint he filed with the zoning department during an October 23 wedding was not registered by the county until this week.
John Henry Jordan lives 2,000 feet from the Schornberg’s property line and also spoke in favor of retaining the audible standard.
“Why is it that those of us who have lived in this county for a long time have to suffer because of one business?” Jordan asked.
“I see both sides of the issue,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd once the public hearing concluded. “[But] I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way we can have a good ordinance is if we go with a decibel standard and I’m convinced based on testimony [of Police Chief Sellers] that the only way to enforce it is through zoning.”
Boyd suggested the zoning department be on hand at future events at Keswick Vineyards to make sure they are in compliance with the new rules. McCulley said her department would be prepared to do so.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he supported the decibel standard, but that a balance had to be struck.
Keswick Vineyards co-owner Cindy Schornberg appeals for a decibel-based standard
“We have to keep in mind that people move into rural areas to have peace and quiet,” Rooker said. “Is 55 decibels and 60 decibels the right standard? I think we can suggest that and adopt an ordinance and determine over some test period of time whether that’s providing the appropriate balance.”
“We’re elated they made the right decision and we are happy to have this ordinance in place,” said Schornberg.
Though Keswick Vineyards has 16 events currently scheduled for this year, they are not yet allowed to hold events with outdoor amplified music until Judge Cheryl Higgins lifts an injunction against them.
The first event is scheduled for May 2, but Schornberg said the wedding is a small one that does not require amplified music
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The Charlottesville Planning Commission recommended a plan Tuesday to modify the city’s zoning code to allow live music without a permit in many of the city’s commercial zoning districts.
The city’s zoning laws currently allow only non-amplified music in restaurants. Amplified music requires the business to have a special-use permit at a cost of $1,500. A review of the city’s restaurants showed many were not in compliance.
“We were noticing that every time you picked up one of the weekly newspapers there was an ad for a place that we didn’t know did music,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. “We did an analysis and there were between 20 and 25 that are operating in places that need a special-use permit.”
In January, the City Council initiated a study to address the issue. After meeting with members of the music community, Tolbert’s recommendation was to allow music performances as a by-right use in many of the city’s commercial zoning districts, with some notable exceptions.
Tolbert said he came to the conclusion that if a venue becomes a problem to its neighbors, the city can use the noise ordinance, Alcoholic Beverage Control regulations and fire code to shut it down.
“If a venue is allowed 80 people, and there are 81, [the fire marshal] has the authority to close the doors,” Tolbert said.
However, at a public hearing Tuesday, some members of the public were concerned that allowing music by-right in mixed-use neighborhoods would cause problems.
“Please do not let this happen again in another neighborhood,” said Shirley Shotwell, who lives next door to the building that formerly housed Bel Rio, a now-closed restaurant in Belmont that sparked the review of music venues.
“Please do not let them have amplified music in neighborhoods where people live,” Shotwell said.
But Randolph Bird, a flute player who lives in Crozet, said he did not feel zoning laws should be used to restrict live music.
“You have a noise ordinance,” Bird said. “The police should arrest those who break it and make them pay a fine. Do that once or twice and it won’t happen again.”
However, Belmont resident Allison Ruffner was opposed to the changes, and felt they would affect other residential neighborhoods in the future.
“You have to have rules and you have to guidelines and so far I’m not seeing anything that’s being written into this code that says there’s a time and place for everything,” Ruffner said. “If you don’t make it expensive, you’re going to have chaos.”
Commissioners were generally supportive of Tolbert’s recommended changes, but were weary of creating another Bel Rio-type situation.
A close-up look at the city's zoning map shows the boundaries of zoning districts. DE is downtown extended, NCC is Neighborhood Commercial Corridor and SS is South Street.
Commissioner Lisa Green, a Belmont resident who joined the commission in August, was concerned that some of the zones being proposed for by-right music would affect neighborhoods. She singled out the Downtown Extended zone, which is to the south of the Downtown Mall.
“In the case of Downtown Extended, you are surrounded completely by residents,” Green said.
With that in mind, the commission made slight changes to Tolbert’s recommendations. If ratified by the City Council, a special-use permit will be required in the city’s M-1, South Street and highway commercial zoning districts. A provisional-use permit will be required in the city’s Downtown Extended district.
Commissioners voted 5-1 to recommend the changes, with John Santoski voting against. Santoski had supported having music performances as a by-right use, but did not agree with the modifications.
Live amplified music will still not be allowed in the Emmet Street corridor or in the Belmont neighborhood. Restaurant owners there who want to have music performances in the future will have to petition the city to change the zoning code. Tolbert said he would not be bringing such a petition before the council.
Green said she wanted assurance that the police department was ready and willing to enforce the noise ordinance if necessary. Tolbert said he would talk with Police Chief Timothy J. Longo before presenting the plan to the City Council later this spring.
“What I’ve got drafted now to go to the Planning Commission in March [are] changes to the code that would say that in every place we now have music, they would be allowed ‘by-right’ — meaning they could just keep operating,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
Blue Moon Diner owner Laura Galgano was one of several dozen musicians and business owners who attended the event Photo: Andrew Shurtleff, Daily Progress (used by permission)
However, Tolbert said there would be exceptions. He suggested music would not be an allowed use in neighborhood commercial corridor and industrial zoning districts, such as in Belmont.
The city’s zoning code currently allows non-amplified music in all restaurants, but if tables and chairs are moved to clear the way for dancing, the venue is technically a “music hall.” That requires the owner to pay $1,500 for a special-use permit, but the use is not allowed in all of the city’s commercial zoning districts.
“My personal feeling is that no permit should be had anywhere, but I’m willing to concede that in an area like Belmont, that’s completely ludicrous,” said Bailee Elizabeth, a musician who has been helping to organize the community.
Elizabeth became actively engaged in the issue in January after the City Council directed the Planning Commission to study possible changes to the zoning code to address the issue.
“Why not allow them to apply for the special use and let the neighborhood decide whether they’re allowed?”
Currently, restaurants established after September 2003 that want to offer amplified music must have a special-use permit. Tolbert said only about four or five restaurants have applied for the permit since that time, but many are not currently in compliance.
“There’s about 20 that started up post-September 2003 that just happened,” Tolbert said. “They started off as a restaurant and started adding music and nobody was really looking at it until we had a problem last summer at one location.”
Tolbert was referring to Bel Rio, a now-closed restaurant in Belmont that angered many of its neighbors with loud music events. That prompted the city to adopt a 55 decibel noise ordinance for Belmont and make a change to the zoning code that stripped out the ability for any Belmont restaurant to offer amplified music.
“We’re paying consequences for [the city’s] inability to shut him [Bel Rio],” said Adam Frazier, owner of The Local on Hinton Avenue. Frazier, a Belmont resident, said he knows many Belmont residents who support live music, as long as the sound is not a problem.
When Tolbert last met with members of the music community in late January at Random Row Books, he said he was toying with the idea of requiring a provisional-use permit if a venue wanted to hold music. Discussions with musicians led him to change his mind.
“You all have convinced me that we have three laws that control what’s happening in the music establishments,” Tolbert said. “That’s the noise ordinance, the ABC laws and occupancy laws. Those three get at the vast majority of the issues that anybody has.”
Many musicians and business owners vehemently insisted that Tolbert also bring forward a change that would restore the right of Belmont restaurants to offer live music.
“It’s a minority of Belmont residents that are opposed to it,” said musician Jamie Dyer. “The majority of Belmont, they want music.”
Tolbert said vocal residents of the Belmont neighborhood asked for the changes last summer, and said he thought the City Council and the Planning Commission would not be interested in allowing live music in Belmont.
“Ninety-nine percent of the changes we’re talking about making now, everyone is going to support, but as soon as we throw Belmont in there, we’re going to run into a buzz-saw,” Tolbert said.
After a vigorous discussion, Tolbert said he would present the commission with a second agenda item that will propose allowing music in Belmont with a special-use permit. The commission will take up the issue March 8.
George Benford, owner of Siips on the Downtown Mall, welcomed Tolbert’s plan. Siips offers music on weekends, despite not having a permit.
“What you’re doing is the first step towards getting this special-use permit off the books, allowing places like us to have music when we’ve been in violation all this time unknowingly,” Benford said.
Last week, the Rutherford Institute issued a letter to the city urging councilors to not enact a zoning ordinance that restricts business owners and musicians’ right to free expression.
“Where a city excludes a broad category of protected expression as a permissible commercial use, the First Amendment requires that the ordinance be narrowly drawn and further a sufficiently substantial government interest,” reads the letter from John W. Whitehead, head of the Albemarle County-based civil liberties organization.
“Nobody is saying you can’t play music or you can’t express yourself,” Tolbert said. “What you can do under zoning is you can regulate the location of certain kind of business establishments. … Our attorney would disagree with the [Rutherford] opinion.”