North Scottsdale restaurant and music venue BLK Live will likely pull the plug on its bid to expand its outdoor stage following a backlash from local residents frustrated by the loudness of the sound that bands generate into their neighborhoods.
Even so, the club will still be able to offer live music under its existing permit – much to the chagrin of those residents.
“BLK has said that it will not proceed with the amendment and will revert to smaller stage size; don’t know if that will have a major impact,” said resident Jon Sigona, adding that he can hear concerts at BLK Live at his home 1.3 miles away.
BLK Live operates under an existing conditional use permit approved by the Scottsdale City Council in 2014, before BLK Live occupied the property. At the time, it was a bar called El Santo.
The 2014 permit allowed for live entertainment in the bar portion of the building, which is located adjacent to Scottsdale Quarter.
The new permit would have allowed a larger stage in the venue.
“The purpose of this application is to update the Live Entertainment CUP to create parameters for which any future stage could operate under,” according to BLK Live’s application filed with the city.
Rocco Visnjic, BLK Live director of operations, said the larger stage would help BLK Live book more prominent musical acts and attract private clients for corporate events.
The existing permit does not include a decibel or noise limit for live performances on the property, said City Planner Bryan Cluff.
However, there is a city-wide ordinance in effect intended to limit “unreasonable noise by businesses that serve alcohol or provide live entertainment,” according to city statute.
That citywide ordinance prohibits venues from creating noise that that disturbs the “peace and quiet” of nearby residential areas. The ordinance includes a stipulation that 68 decibels is considered unreasonable.
There was a chance that a new permit could have included noise-level restrictions, though that appears to be moot now that BLK Live is likely going to pull the application.
“There had been discussions about noise mitigation in moving forward,” Cluff said. “It didn’t get to point where specific noise levels were identified.”
Visnjic expressed frustration with the city, saying BLK Live was dropping the application because “the city is not willing work with us.”
“We’ve never been in violation and never been cited for anything,” said Visnjic, BLK Live director of operations.
Visnjic cited a noise study conducted by Acoustic Consulting Services that the club commissioned as part of its permit application.
That study measured decibel levels at various homes and other properties in the area around BLK Live during live outdoor performances and found that in all cases, the readings at the properties was below the 68-decibel limit and typically between 40 to 50 decibels.
In some cases the results were imperceptible, according to the study.
Visnjic also said that BLK Live has received threats of vandalism or harm to its property and staff related to the noise complaints, though he was unable to provide the Progress with any proof of those threats.
Sigona denied any knowledge of threats made against BLK or its employees.
“People that are aligned with us are completely polite and law-abiding people, and if threats were made they should absolutely report them to the police,” Sigona said.
Sigona said he just wants quiet to return to his neighborhood.
He sent the Progress a presentation on the issue that included this anonymous quote:
“When we can hear the music in our bedrooms when trying to sleep, it doesn’t matter whether it is 50 or 68 (decibels) when it is keeping us awake. This is having a significant effect on our quality of life.”
At issue for Sigona is the way BLK Live’s speaker system is set up. He said speakers are above the property’s fence line and pointed in a way that causes the sound to carry into outside communities.
“If they brought the speakers down below fence level, it should reduce volume sufficiently,” Sigona said.
Sigona said, as it stands, he can hear music from BLK Live in his backyard over one mile from the venue and he has spoken with residents affected as far as two miles away.
“They want to paint us as whiny old folks, but we have a hell of a lot of better things to do with our time than this,” Sigona said.
Sigona also pointed to calls for service at the BLK Live property as evidence that the venue has an outsized negative impact on the surrounding community.
According to Scottsdale Police call for service records provided to the Progress by Sigona, BLK has had significantly more calls for service for disturbances in recent years than similar venues in the area.
The calls for service records do not indicate if any of those calls resulted in official action by the city.
According to the call for service records, Scottsdale Police has received 145 calls for service related to disturbances at BLK Live between January 1, 2017 and February 25, 2019m with 131 of those calls specifically for “Disturbance at Venue”.
For comparison, Skeptical Chymist, an Irish bar with live music, had four calls for service for disturbances between January 1, 2017 and April 11, 2019.
Handlebar J, another Scottsdale restaurant with live music, had six calls for service for disturbances between January 1, 2017 and April 11, 2019.
Visnjic, for his part, said BLK Live is just trying to run a successful business.
“Our job isn’t to bombard or upset people,” Visnjic said. “Our job is just to be a successful business in Scottsdale and be a part of the community here.”
Sigona said he is not looking to shut down BLK Live.
“We have no need to see them go out of business, but we are going to have peace in our community,” Sigona said.