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Twin Sisters Brewery To End Music…For A Time

By On
• In Bellingham,

Perhaps it is just the cold weather that is shutting things down, but the management of the Twin Sisters brewery announced it will not continue its music venue until they can resolve issues with the neighborhood (and by extension, the city) over loud noise. The decision was revealed at a scheduled Sunnyland Neighborhood meeting on November 13th attended by about two dozen residents and three members of the brewery’s management. The nearly two-hour discussion covered issues such as parking, light pollution, traffic, speeding, noise, and loud music.

The parking hell around the brewery was the first topic. Clark Williams of the city’s Public Works Department was there to speak about (but did not recommend) the possibility of creating a Residential Parking Zone, three of which now exist in the neighborhoods bordering Western Washington University (South Hill, Sehome and York). These zones were set up to ensure parking availability during the day in the neighborhoods that otherwise were being invaded by students and employees of the university who could not or would not pay for parking on campus. The idea of a RPZ for the area surrounding the brewery was thus suggested to ensure parking availability for local residents who are now crowded out of parking due to the presence of hundreds of patrons of the establishment. There has never been a RPZ created for evening hours, although the possibility cannot be ruled out. The Bellingham City Council would have to approve a change to the current municipal code section (11.38.010) on RPZs which, with all the accompanying folderol, might take a year to put in place. Even then, the neighbors would have to pay fees for their RPZ parking permits, which is the ultimate and ironic insult to them: having to pay for a reasonable chance of parking near their homes because of a situation created by the brewery. Maybe the brewery can foot the bill for the initial RPZ setup and fees for each resident for the next 10 years.

Then, council member Daniel Hammill spoke to the group for about 15 minutes. But not about the brewery, a topic he already blew off in an email to the neighbors in which he said the equivalent of “not my job” to help out constituents. To quote the council member, “..it’s not the role of council to intervene on police or planning department matters.” Mr. Hammill used his 15 minutes of infamy to speak instead of disaster preparedness for wind, fire, water and earth, while the neighbors present were experiencing a disaster of their own called “unlivable conditions.” And then Hammill beat feet for another meeting. Busy fella.

Rounding out the evening, Neighborhood Police Officer Dante Alexander was fed into the whirring Asplundh chipper of irate neighbors. After the usual presentation on the woes of car prowls and other crimes and misdemeanors in the neighborhood, the discussion was finally turned in the direction of the brewery and the NOISE of the live music, specifically, the rules under which the police operate. A surprising reveal was that infractions issued for violations of the noise ordinance are not issued against the brewery as a company but against the manager or person in charge at the time. So there is no buildup of infractions against the brewery and as long as the person in charge keeps changing from evening to evening, the citations will go to a variety of individuals. [And here I was under the mistaken belief that corporations could be held responsible as they are persons under the pronouncement of the Supreme Court backed up by Mr. Mitt “Corporations are people, my friend” Romney.]

For their part, the brewery reps made a plea to the crowd, asking “what else they could do to mitigate.” This, after one person suggested that the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center be called forth to mediate. Just what is there to mediate? The level of misery to be tolerated by the neighbors? How nice to see such conciliatory behavior on the part of the management a posteriori. A year ago, meeting with the neighbors was anathema to the city and the management. Now, they both have an image problem and have woken up.

But the problem lies not only with the brewery but with the enforcement of the codes, most of which seem to work for the brewery and not the people who have to live there day after day. I am still waiting on a two-week old request for copies of the police reports for the 911 calls from the 27th and the 31st of October when 18 calls were made over the period of several hours each evening. Those reports may shed more light on the vagaries of enforcement, i.e.,from shutting down the music completely on August 25th and more recently asking the management to turn it down a tad, which seems to be the current default action.

About Dick Conoboy

Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Kevin Covey

Nov 18, 2018

Hi Dick,

You mention fees associated with residential parking zones—can you provide any more information and sources on what those fees are?

I ask because I researched residential parking zones last year as a possible solution for the parking pressure we experience in the York Neighborhood, and I was told by parking enforcement staff that there are no fees for residents. The City’s Parking Permit page explicitly mentions the fees associated with downtown and commercial permits, but is silent on fees for residential permits. The application/renewal form for residential permits also doesn’t provide a mechanism for making payments, and the info sheet associated with the form doesn’t mention any resident fees either.

So, while 11.38.010 does authorize charging fees to residents, as best I can tell the program has been designed without any fees for residents.  It would be better to clear this up and get a concrete statement one way or the other, so I’ll call the city this week and see if they can put a clarifying statement on the permit page.

It is also possible that I have gotten this wrong, so if you can provide some links to information or if residents of current parking zones can chime in, that would be helpful!

-kevin

 

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Tim Paxton

Nov 18, 2018

Noise violations, parking violations, traffic volumes turning this street into arterials, ADA violations (cars driving on sidewalks, no curbs, etc), littering, police stand down on enforcement, probably the highest 911 call block in Bellingham history, etc. etc.

Should we rename this area: Fort Apache, Bellingham? 

 

 

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Sam Crawford

Nov 18, 2018

This editor has such an angry perspective! Holy smokes, no wonder it’s so difficult to work as community when there are people this negative and unwilling to build bridges toward solutions. Disputes over new business activity (and other development) vs. adjoining residential zoning happen all the time in every city in this country. These issues are solvable, and the resulting collaboration and compromise make for a better quality of life for everyone.

I’m so glad, SO glad, I’m not your neighbor!

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David Donohue

Nov 18, 2018

Sam

You address the “tone” of the author, and nothing of the substance, like so many others too (insert descriptor here)  to really understand the issues.  As all the articles in this series note, this whole conflagration could have been avoided if the owners and the city had taken the time to include the residential neighbors before executing the project.  It is predictable that you, and others, would talk about the “solveability” of these issues without regarding the reality that both the city and the developer sought to tread on the rights of the residents without any regard to the consequences.   So while you are technically correct that these issues are “solveable,”  it is a fact that the developer has actively sought to exercise their rights without regard or consideration for their neighbors.  We all have ideas how this could be done right.  the problem is, it was done wrong, and now the smug and self-satisfied among us sneer up their sleeves at those of us who dare to stand up for ourselves.  

Interestingly, I believe that the issues are quite resolveable, and probably will come to a more favorable resolution for all given time and process, but that none of this could have happened without the clear and consistent reporting that the only media outlet in Whatcom county had the intererst to publish.  For neighborhoods looking to preserve their liveablility, this publication is a lifeline.   You, not so much.   

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Sam Crawford

Nov 19, 2018

Until late this summer I owned a Sunnyland neighborhood home (for 20 years) 3 blocks away from Twin Sisters. I’ve followed this development closely since day one. I fully understand the issues, and I know the neighborhood quite well.

You’re right, my comment was never intended to get to the substantive conflict. It was an observation about how people choose to work to resolve conflict, or choose not to. There’s some obvious choices being made in this editorial. I don’t know for sure, but I kinda get the impression the author doesn’t even have a home in the Sunnyland neighborhood.

Twin Sisters is not going away. The adjacent homes are not going away. Maybe the ranting and raving about it here won’t go away either, but it sure ain’t helping.  There will eventually be resolution, and it will be achieved by calmer voices. Mediation is an excellent suggestion, and it won’t be about misery, it’ll be about finding mutually acceptable means to improve quality of life. It can be done.

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Tim Paxton

Nov 19, 2018

I wonder if the Washington State Liquor Control Board considers a drinking business that generates possibly over 100+   911 calls in it opening months a problem?      They might wish to review that permit.   A business model of creating a bunch of drunk drivers and destroying a residential neighborhood should be examined pretty closely.

When drug dealers predictably move in because of a possible police stand down will that be a problem?   

Is the owner of this bar going to pay for all the costs and problems he has caused.  I.e extra policing, violation of rights, deception by City officials, possible suits vs the City? 

This is a typical attitude of government officials.  If they sneak something into place, the fait accompli rule takes over and everyone else is supposed to get used to it.    

 

 

 

 

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David Barton

Nov 19, 2018

Hi David,

For the first time in a little while your post gives me a little hope that progress is possible, and it seems pretty obvious that at this point you and others most opposed or irritated needed some time to vent a little bit about the process that brought the brewery here.  That’s FINE and totally understandable- I literally asked you that last week numerous times what your end game was with all this- not to insult you, but to figure out what your desired outcome was. The question was coincidentally asked in the neighborhood meeting, and no one could really articulate what that would look like….

To your point-I don’t think anyone living in close proximity would claim that we were satisfied with how we were informed about what was going on over there (we weren’t).

The divergence occurred after the place opened, when people people went two different ways: After an explanation from the city, some people decided to give it a chance, and others were so angry with the permitting and development process that they wouldn’t. Likewise, the feedback that has ensued after the opening is really people comparing apples and oranges: Those fixated on what happened prior to opening, and those observing what the situation is today. Or, translating what you just wrote: Those of us who are “smug, satisfied and sneering” vs. those of us standing up for ourselves. Again, these are apples to oranges discussions, to some degree-and to be fair I’d say that the jabs have gone both ways.

Your comment here rightfully highlights the fact that impressions matter. But I’d posit that the concept applies to both Twin Sisters AND over the top “reporting” or assessments of the current situation. Perceptions matter, whether it’s a first impression or a clearly biased series of articles.

Regarding Twin Sisters, you’re absolutely right that a lot of this whole dustup may have been avoided if the city had taken steps to inform neighbors throughout the process from the beginning. And TS could have made things easier for themselves in retrospect by doing more proactively to knock on doors to let all of us know their plans. But ultimately they did all things as required by the city or they never would have been allowed to open their doors. And after an understandably chaotic first month or so caused by popularity beyond their expectations, things really started to calm down.

Regarding Northwest Citizen (or any completely negative comments that exaggerate details), it may make you feel better that someone was representing your perspective, but I don’t think it helps the whole discussion when someone continues to pen such an over-the-top, one-sided column, and then people pawn it off as some sort of neutral observation on what’s going on in the neighborhood-especially when it uses such hyperbole and omits or distorts facts to try to prove a point. From a PR standpoint, to an outside observer it’s hard to get past tone when it comes across as irrationally biased, and appears to poison the well and create divide, not help the overall situation. And I’m not the biggest fan of people from outside the immediate area clarifying for me what I see or don’t see or hear in front of me on a daily basis.

For example, it comes across as almost comical to refer to the current condition of our neighborhood as a disaster of “unlivable conditions” - which could be a contender for first world problem comment of the year! It also comes across as extremely biased for the author to refer to an “image problem” while he is clearly to help to shape and perpetuate said negative perception.

Music is another example. I’m fully aware that amplified sound is loud and disturbs neighbors. But out of 120 days of operation, TS has only attempted to host music on five nights total- each night on their grand opening weekend over Labor Day and then twice on Halloween week.. That means they’ve attempted to have music less than 5% of the time they’ve been open- and only on weekends or holidays- and never after 10pm. This is a far cry from the nightly hellscape Dick and some people insinuate. Pointing this fact out doesn’t mean that people don’t take it seriously or understand the issue- but facts and context matter to an argument. Likewise, defending the place and the changes they’ve made doesn’t mean that someone was a big fan of how the city permitted the place. But again, how it came to be and how it operates now are two completely different things.

Again, real issues are obscured when people like the editor to this post play loose with facts, exaggerate certain points, and snarkily apply negative intentions to certain parties in the course of their “reporting”.  There are plenty of valid observations to be made and facts to be presented- and for that I can see why you do appreciate the efforts. But other parts of the posts are complete conjecture, and paint an incomplete picture, or are clearly one-sided. The ridiculous writing style of the article is what actually brought me into the online conversation, and it’s what causes someone like Sam or myself to remark about the tone, and not the substance of the post. An extremely biased article comes across as someone just trying to stir things up. And if the folks still sour on the issue would clearly state what want to achieve rather than gin up the current situation and and ascribe negative intent to those around them, they’d likely receive more support for the point that they were trying to make. 

Moving on, there are things to glean from this whole experience, so perhaps one of the additional outcomes you, (or even we!), could shoot for doing other helpful things, like encouraging the city to change the process, or at least instill on them the importance of a more public process for future projects like the one in our neighborhood.

Anyway, again I’m encouraged to see your post, and hope that I’ve clarified my take on the situation so that you can understand where I’m coming from, as well as my take on why friction is occurring between residents of Sunnyland. Personally I have no hard feelings towards anyone in this whole issue, and understand now that you just want to be heard. While I don’t believe the intent of trying to create and make a beer garden successful is evil, I do share your sentiment that the city should have included neighbors somewhere in the process before the place ever got off the ground.

*One other quick correction to this blog post and subsequent comment: The city staff member did not say that residents would be expected to pay for RPZ permits- he said that if an RPZ was ever to be permitted or created for the neighborhood, it may have to be a possibility. He also pointed out that no one has ever been charged in the other zone. Though, from what I understand, it does seem unlikely that traffic from TS would reach the threshold for approval for such a designated zone.

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David Donohue

Nov 19, 2018

 

In all of this, Dick Conoboy and the Northwest Citizen, is the only member of the local media that cared enough to listen and very accurately write about the salient issues in this matter.   His “tone” is for the most part a professional and accurate accounting of what’s gone by.  If you are offended by incivility, then you will take the neighbors’ part in this, having clearly had our right to peaceful enjoyment of our homes offended by the level of operations that have been so carelessly allowed to infringe that enjoyment. 

 

 

 

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Kevin Covey

Nov 19, 2018

Just to follow-up on the issue of costs associated with residential parking zones:  I was able to confirm with Parking Services folks that there are no fees assessed to residents in residential parking zones.  

The staff even updated the parking permit page today to reflect this, which will hopefully clear up some of the confusion about this issue: https://www.cob.org/services/transportation/parking/pages/parking-permits.aspx

 

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Dick Conoboy

Nov 20, 2018

Kevin,

Thanks for clearing up the fee issue.  That being said for the moment, the more we densify, the more confilicts will arise over parking issues (declaring that more people will bike or ride the bus does not magically make that happen).  I can envision a point at which more and more neighborhoods will ask for relief through RPZs and the cost to the city will become prohibitive.  Then come the fees.

An RPZ around the brewery will just squeeze the cars out to another area, possibly to residential streets to the north.  Pushing them out, however, to the south into the light industrial zone may be much more preferable since in the evenings these areas are pretty much devoid of commercial activity.

A suggestion I heard was to convert the outside beer garden into a parking area, essentially expanding the on-site parking while eliminating the inflated seating area which in essence doubles the occupancy.  I wonder if the BFD has looked into that.

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Dick Conoboy

Nov 20, 2018

As for the rest of the comments, I stand by my writing style.  I also want to make it clear that I do not speak for those who live near the brewery.  I have looked at the situation and have provided my own perspective based on over 15 years dealing with city hall.  I do employ snark, irony and, at times, outright condemnation of actions.  To quote Popeye, “Iyam what Iyam.”

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