Zoning dispute could bring about entertainment district

A conflict between entertainment and residential uses on the northern fringe of downtown Winston-Salem could put the city on the path of developing an entertainment district as a new zoning classification.

After hearing concerns from a lawyer representing the opposition, the city council decided to take no action on a rezoning request by property investor Jonathan Waterbury, who is seeking to rezone his building at the corner of North Main Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from light industrial to pedestrian business, which allows residential uses.

Councilman Derwin Montgomery, whose ward encompasses Waterbury’s property as well as Ziggy’s, made a motion of no consideration, meaning that the request could come up again at the full council’s next meeting on March 26. Montgomery expressed concern about the potential for the rezoning to negative impact existing property owners, including Ziggy’s and District Roof Top Bar & Grille on Trade Street. He added that he had hoped that by delaying the decision the opposing parties would find common ground, but that did not come to pass.

(Disclosure: YES! Weekly publisher Charles Womack is a part owner of Ziggy’s and this reporter maintains a satellite newspaper office in the building.)

“High-intensity, crowded, noisy uses are popular with the young people Winston-Salem wants to attract,” said Donald M. Nielsen, who represents Ziggy’s and the District. “These uses, of course, don’t have to be downtown, but a successful downtown needs to have a place where they are accepted and ideally would be celebrated as a key ingredient in a vital downtown.”

Lawyer Everett Powell told council his client, Jonathan Waterbury, moved to the neighborhood about 15 years ago.

“He’s an artist in an artist’s area, and he was one of the first to become a resident and a working member there in this area in this building,” Powell said. “And he spent a lot of money rehabilitating it and making it into a very nice work area and residential area.”

Nielsen told council that the owners Ziggy’s, which opened last August, worked closely with the city to ensure that the venue would be compatible with its neighbors, including factoring topography and nearby buildings into noise mitigation. He added that the owners did not know that Waterbury “made his permanent home” nearby.

“The natural result of a large entertainment venue right next to a home or nearby a home is tension,” Nielsen said. “Mr. Waterbury complained about noise from Ziggy’s between the time it opened and the time of his rezoning application.”

Nielsen said the city’s noise ordinance was written to protect residents — who, he might have added, like to sleep in peace at night — but Ziggy’s and similar music venues provide entertainment primarily between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“My clients have met with elected officials and city staff to discuss an alternative, which would protect live entertainment facilities and allow residential,” he said. “The city could embrace the recommendations of downtown plans that formally designate this area as an entertainment district. Within the district, there could be measures that would protect entertainment facilities and encourage residential development. It would be explicit that loud noise and late hours are expected, and even celebrated.”

Although discomforted by the prospect of threatening the viability of entertainment businesses, council members signaled that they also want to encourage residential development in downtown.

Earlier, the council had approved a rezoning from light industrial to pedestrian business for a quarter-acre site at North Main Street and East 7th Street. Planning Director Paul Norby noted to council that since 2002 a succession of such transitions allowing a mix of business and residential to replace industrial uses has occurred along the eastern side of downtown running towards the northwest.

“To us, that’s a sign of progress,” said Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, who represents the Northeast Ward, “if we looked at where we’ve come from and where we’re going.”

Montgomery said the council’s public safety committee will look into the possibility of creating an entertainment district at its next meeting on March 19. He added that staff in the planning and legal departments will likely draw up a proposal for council’s consideration.

“You have to ask the question: Is this the area that you designate for entertainment,” Montgomery said. “If it is entertainment, how does the residential threaten entertainment? This is an individual who has made a substantial investment. We want people to bring business to Winston-Salem. This individual was there first because he has been there 15 years, but without it being zoned in a residential use, it’s as if you were there illegally.”

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