The Old Piano And Some Red Tape
A venerable piano bar attempts to navigate Monterey's byzantine zoning regulations.
Wednesday, November 22, 2000
There is a bar on Lighthouse in Monterey affectionately known as Bosso''s. It''s a typical bar, with a poolroom, a taproom, and more important to this tale, a large lounge within which rests an old and battered piano.
At one time long ago, an instrument of this sort would have brought many people into the bar, where they would have lounged about on the soft red couches and lacquered chairs, smoking cigarettes or making furtive eye contact with strangers across the crowded room. There was a time when that was all you needed to enjoy yourself among your fellow human beings.
People still enjoy music as a soundtrack to their nighttime endeavors, but now the music is a world away from the melodic tinkling of the ivories that used to be the standard in entertainment. Popular people want popular music, and that''s generally loud music: DJs spinning something to dance to, or bands playing songs individuals can share or get lost in together. And the bars and clubs that can give it to them see more business because of it.
So when Bosso''s owner, Tony Annigoni, brought a DJ into his piano room on Wednesday nights, he was following the most basic of entrepreneurial tenets and making his mousetrap a bit more attractive. It worked. Wednesday night business jumped. But the venture went sour after a few months when the city fined him $250 for conducting live entertainment business without a proper permit.
"I think it was a cop that got us. We''ve never had a complaint from people who live around here that I know of," Annigoni said in his accented drawl one recent afternoon.
At one time Bosso''s was allowed live entertainment. That was the case until the late ''80s, when the city zoned a large section next to the bar as a residential area. By law, bars and liquor-serving establishments adjacent to a residential area are not allowed to apply for live entertainment permits, the rationale being that booze plus music adds up to noise, which equals sleepless neighbors.
That would seem automatically to preclude Bosso''s from getting an entertainment permit, but it isn''t quite as simple as that. Bosso''s problem is dug deeply into the realm of the contradictory clutter of zoning regulation and enforcement.
Bosso''s can technically have a DJ if no one dances, and if the business didn''t serve alcohol it could apply for a permit--not very realistic for a business space that has been a bar since 1935.
Those possibilities are of little comfort to Annigoni, especially since his flirtation with live entertainment didn''t seem to be bothering anyone in the neighborhood. Furthermore, it doesn''t seem fair to him that right downtown, plans are in the works to expand the Monterey Hotel and add residences along Calle Principal directly behind Viva, a local rock bar. (Viva, however, will be toning down its musical offerings in the future.) There are also apartments and hotel rooms that currently face Alvarado, where traffic and live music are in the highest concentration. To someone in Annigoni''s position, that looks like inconsistent zoning.
The Monterey Planning Department sees it a different way.
"There are obviously a number of mixed use projects next to bars and liquor stores," explains Todd Bennett, an associate planner with the city of Monterey. "Those types of areas are compatible. It is the bars and liquor stores next to single family or multi-family homes that usually are a recipe for potential conflicts."
Entertainment permits do serve a purpose. No one wants a roaring rock bar or a perpetually thumping dance club built across the street from their house or apartment, spewing music at all hours of the night. So to keep the peace and quiet, the Monterey Planning Commission zones areas to effectively split commercial and industrial enterprises from the residential areas. It also requires a permit for any business that might disrupt a nearby neighborhood.
There are some businesses in Monterey that are allowed to skip the approval process for live entertainmental altogether. These are businesses in what is called the Urban Renewal Area, which includes the Custom House Plaza and runs as far west as Van Buren and as far east as Washington. The exemption allows bars and clubs like Peter B''s and the newly opened Club Octane to operate with live entertainment without going through the somewhat laborious permitting process.
"I think that the city of Monterey would rather take a proactive stance than a reactive stance," says Bennett. "If the use [of live entertainment permits] generates complaints, then we could go back in there and help them."
The problems that typically occur with businesses that have permits for entertainment are due to complaints from the public and/or documented complaints from local police, who may have had numerous problems with a particular establishment. This keeps the balance fair for those establishments that have permits and allows the city to work with them to achieve a compromise that makes everyone happy. The city asked Britannia Arms, for instance, to move its live entertainment from the front window facing the street to the back of its main room because of the noise level.
In the case of Bosso''s specifically it means that the business may not even get permitted for music at all, due to how close the bar is to the residential zoning.
"I intend to apply to get live music, but I don''t think we''re going to get it," Annigoni says. "It doesn''t make any sense."
Annigonni isn''t only angry when it comes to the city''s zoning regulations. In fact, he is very appreciative of people like Bennett, who had a part in rescinding the fine placed on Bosso''s last month. The clutter of regulations that can bury a businessman''s desire to follow due process is a confusing problem for both sides--a "no one is wrong, but no one is right" sort of thing.
Until all this is figured out, the loudest music heard around Bosso''s will come from the blaring stereos of residents themselves, and the softest notes will come from an old backroom piano.