Wednesday, September 17, 2008

City OKs Madison's dance permit


Three months after the Santa Barbara Fire and Police Commission stripped dancing privileges at Madison’s Sports Grill and Tavern by revoking the establishment’s dance permit, the City Council yesterday voted to give it back.
The council credited the current owners of Madison’s for improving the restaurant’s rocky past and willingness to comply with the city’s recently approved dance ordinance as reason to renew the permit, which was originally granted to a different owner in 2001.

The green light on dancing at Madison’s brings the total number of dance permits on the 500 block of State Street to five.
Diane and Derek Harding, the majority owners of Madison’s since 2006, said the council’s decision is a testament to their effort to improve the business and be “part of the solution, not the problem.”
“The City Council did a good job,” Derek Harding said. “They respect what we’re doing as business owners. Madison’s is a model establishment. We do everything we can do to be a good neighbor and it’s unappreciated by our neighbor.”
The neighbor referenced by Harding is the Santa Barbara Hotel, which in the recent past, has been opposed to granting dance permits in the downtown area, also known as the entertainment district, due to what representatives from the hotel say are noise complaints from hotel guests.
In a letter urging the City Council to uphold the commission’s denial of the dance permit, John C. Greer, legal counsel for the hotel, pointed out the distance between Madison’s and the hotel is three inches. As such, the ruckus from the music that accompanies the dancing is too loud, he said.
“The noise emanating from the music at Madison’s is not and cannot be contained within their structure as it permeates their walls and intrudes on the residents of the hotel depriving them of the reasonable use and enjoyment of their residence,” Greer wrote.
Furthermore, Greer claimed the current ownership at Madison’s allowed dancing while it knowingly did not have a permit.
This is where the history of Madison’s dance permit and a drastic ownership change there muddies the water when it comes to dancing.
According to the City Council’s agenda report, the Harding’s took over as primary shareholders of Madison’s in 2006. Under city law, when such an ownership change occurs, a new dance permit must be applied for.
That didn’t happen until May of this year, shortly after a citizen complaint filed with the Fire and Police Commission shed light on the ownership change.
After an investigation, the commission found the Harding’s needed to apply for a new dance permit, which they did.
However, at the commission’s May 22, 2008 meeting, the commission voted 3-1 to deny the dance permit. It did so after reviewing crime statistics at the establishment and hearing from Madison’s head of security, who insisted the restaurant had cleaned up its act and had taken several steps to reduce noise.
City Councilman Das Williams, who voted in favor of renewing the permit, said the commission felt for one reason or another that the Harding’s knew they needed to apply for a new dance permit, but kept on dancing anyway.
Harding disputed that claim, and said when he and his wife took over as primary owners; they did so with the understanding from the previous owner that the dance permit would remain in tact.
But whether the Harding’s knew or not, is not the issue, according to Councilman Dale Francisco, who said he felt the commission erred when it denied the dance permit on grounds not stipulated in the city’s current dance ordinance.
Francisco, who voted against renewing the dance permit because he felt it should be sent back to the commission, said the commission should have denied the permit based on one or more of the five stipulations set forth within the current ordinance.
Anything less, he said, is short of following the letter of the law.
“I don’t feel the commission paid enough attention to the dance ordinance,” he said. “It was quite clear to me that none of those five findings were made. I think that was a procedural error.”
The other council members agreed with their colleague. However, they said they felt the Harding’s shouldn’t be penalized for something they apparently didn’t know about.
“These folks have made an effort and they shouldn’t be penalized for making an effort,” Williams said.
Councilman Grant House said it was clear to him the Harding’s have attempted to make “good faith” efforts to improve their operation that the council would like to see from all business owners.
The council adopted a number of conditions to go along with the renewed dance permit. They include: restricting the volume of the music so as not to be audible beyond 50 feet from the premises in any direction; the speakers at the front of the bar must be turned off after 10 p.m.; four security guards must be on duty during hours of dancing, which occurs Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 1:30 a.m.; the rear door must be kept closed, but unlocked, during hours of dancing and sound-proof insulation must be installed near skylights.
The council did not adopt a condition that would have mandated the front doors at Madison’s be closed during dancing hours.
Harding said he felt the conditions are more than reasonable since he’s already implementing most of them.
Harding said any other decision than the one handed down by the council would have resulted in a huge hit to business.
“You can’t take away a certain component of the business and wish it well,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

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