Fenwick jumps into live music

At a special meeting Wednesday, the Fenwick Town Council approved an exception to its noise ordinance that will allow live jazz in a local commercial center.

The council had approved a similar resolution — by the same 5-2 margin — at its regularly-scheduled meeting on July 22, and agreed to submit it to town attorney Tempe Steen for a final green light. Steen demurred, however, prompting the council to delay and demarcate the motion.

Despite the carryover objections from Council President Peter Frederick and Council Vice President Harry Haon, the legislature — with semantic assistance from Steen — again ratified a motion permitting the Village of Fenwick to hold eight biweekly concerts, featuring an acoustic jazz trio, from 6 to 9 p.m. The concerts will be Tuesdays and Thursdays in the village’s courtyard, facing either the highway or the parking lot.

Continuation of the performances is contingent on community approval, since three valid complaints to Police Chief Colette Sutherland will effectively end the retail cluster’s exemption from noise disturbances. The complaints, Council Member Chris Clark said, must come from “from an individual or individuals of normal hearing range, needing to identify theme or individual notes from outside the boundaries of the Village of Fenwick.”

“We’re not trying to set any sort of precedent to allow rock concerts in town and I believe that anything that happens in this town has guidelines to follow. If somebody or any business decides to do something in a fashion that becomes excessively loud, you have to be able to enforce that,” Clark said. “Having three strikes is a way of accommodating that problem.”

Clark, the council’s commercial liaison, spearheaded the effort to bring al fresco entertainment to the Village of Fenwick after he was approached by Shelly Roberts, the shopping center proprietress and owner of Fenwick Hammocks & Kites. Clark’s original entreaty did not clear Steen’s desk because he neglected to introduce it six hours prior to the July council meeting. The initiative, therefore, did not appear on the agenda, failing to give the public ample notice.

This time around, Clark took the proper precautions.

“In trying to take the higher road in this whole ordeal, he said. “I did follow the recommended guidelines and did ask that we have seven days notice so we could move forward.”

The commercial liaison, backed by Council Members Audrey Serio and Vicki Carmean, also argued that the Village of Fenwick had no obligation to seek town approval and was doing so in good faith. Special one-day exceptions from the noise ordinance had previously been granted to Warren’s Station and Charlie’s Bayside Grill, and the noise ordinance only specifically forbids outdoor music at restaurants or bars.

“This is less along the lines of being a business operating in the town,” Clark said. “This is more along the lines of entertainment such as was held in the town park last Saturday night.”

Steen disagreed, saying the ordinance prohibits any activity that can’t be assumed to be commonplace at a given locale. Singing at a church, for example, would be protected.

“The question for you all to determine with a rational basis is if this activity is proper with this use,” Steen said. “That’s the question for you all to make a legislative decision about, and by discussing it you’re laying the basis for your rational.”

While not opposed to live music in theory, Haon opposed it in this instance, calling the waiver “illegal” and a dangerous precedent. Haon, the chairman of the town’s ordinance committee, said the appropriate first step would be to redraft Fenwick’s codes — allow for concerts but also for control of the preexisting conditions — and set forth his proposals.

“So we don’t get accused of ready, fire, aim, I suggest that we go ahead and ready, aim, fire,” Haon said, “and this is the aim part.”

Serio, on the other hand, contended that Haon’s recommendations should be the starting points for future ordinance editing. But the council, she said, should approve the Village of Fenwick’s request first.

“There is a day after tomorrow. And I think that we could take the time and meet with Tempe [Steen] to set up parameters so we’re comfortable,” Serio said. “We realize this is an issue that needs addressing. We can start with Tempe and try to do something that pleases the commercial areas, the residents and the council.”

Serio joined Clark, Carmean, Theodore Brans and Martha Keller in voting to pass the exemption. Haon and Frederick voted no. A meeting to discuss rewriting the noise ordinance will be scheduled for later in August, according to Frederick.