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Arlington ponders allowing outdoor music

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Local,Virginia,Ben Giles
Arlington County officials are worried that giving a local food market permission to feature live entertainment at its outdoor cafe could lead to a countywide noise problem as dozens of restaurants and bars make similar requests.

The Westover Market on North Washington Boulevard wants a permit that would allow it to provide live music twice a week in the adjacent outdoor "Beer Garden." Owners are seeking permission this year after being caught playing live music without a permit last fall. They have been barred from providing live music since then.

Susan Bell, director of the Arlington Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, said that dozens of other restaurants with outdoor patios and cafes could apply for permits for live outdoor entertainment if Westover Market wins the County Board's approval Tuesday night.

The county generally hasn't allowed outdoor music because of noise complaints from adjacent property owners.

In a report to the board, county staffers said they fear other establishments near the Beer Garden -- Lebanese Taverna, Lost Dog Cafe and Stray Cat, to name a few -- may request live music permits, compounding potential noise problems.

The main issue, according to board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, is whether the county is capable of enforcing its own law. The county lacks the manpower to police noise complaints during the evening and over weekends, when complaints would be most prevalent, he said.

So far, the county has approved only one live-music permit for an outdoor venue, and only on an "experimental" basis. SoBe Bar and Bistro on Clarendon Boulevard still has that permit, according to owner Bobby Lee, and to his knowledge there have been no complaints.

However, SoBe is surrounded by commercial office buildings while the Beer Garden abuts single-family homes in a quiet suburban neighborhood.

The board delayed a decision from its Saturday meeting until Tuesday, and directed the county staff to draft a proposal that would allow live music on a trial basis.

"We ought to find a way to make it work," said Board Member Walter Tejada, "and I accept the fact that not everyone's going to be happy."

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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