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Waverly live music debate gets louder; Community group changes stance, but some neighbors still oppose zoning switch


Two Waverly businesses hoping to offer live music are at the center of a conflict over "live culture" in the North Baltimore community.

Melba's Place, a nightclub that opened last year in the 3100 block of Greenmount Ave., will go before the zoning board today for a hearing on an application to allow live music. The other, Normal's, a 9-year-old used book and record store on the 400 block of E. 31st St., will be heard March 2.

Both are vying for the support of the Abell Improvement Association, which until this month stood firmly against live music. Historically, the zoning board has listened to the neighborhood association.

The controversy over live music in Waverly dates to a February 1996 killing outside a defunct nightclub where Melba's Place stands. Last year, the Abell group decided to stand firmly against live entertainment.

But Feb. 4, at a contentious meeting with about 100 residents, the association changed its position. By a 52 to 36 vote, the association decided to review requests for live entertainment case by case. If the group and the business come to a written agreement, the association would agree to support the case in front of the zoning board.

During two recent meetings, residents recalled the homicide, noise near the nightclub, intoxicated patrons, fights and parking problems on weekend nights.

"We do not want any more live entertainment," said Carol Elder, a teacher, at one meeting. "We got burned once, and we don't want to get burned again."

At the second meeting, Melba's Place owner Matthew Bradley addressed nuisance concerns.

"I will work with the community, and I will guarantee you that Melba's Place will not be a 32nd Street Plaza," he said, referring to the defunct nightclub.

Bradley has not signed a formal agreement with the Abell association, according to its president, Wendy Kronmiller. But the two sides plan to huddle today before the zoning hearing.

The association also plans to continue discussions with owners of Normal's, who hope to offer avant-garde and jazz music to small audiences in its Red Room.

"This is a central venue of experimental music," said John Berndt, one of the bookstore's owners. "That's why it's so important to us."

But opposition remains. Marjoleine Kars, part of a group opposed to live entertainment in the neighborhood, said, "I think people don't understand that agreements are hard to enforce."

Tom Padwa, the drafter of the compromise calling for case-by-case reviews, said he saw the issue as a matter of economic vitality.

"With a blanket condemnation, we wind up with businesses closed, a stifling of commerce. We want to give Greenmount Avenue a chance," Padwa said.

Pub Date: 2/16/99

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