Kingdom of uncool

When Cheryl Kellis learned that plans were afoot to convert the 12,000-square-foot Baptist church across the street from her tidy frame house into a music club and restaurant, she feared the worst--loud music, traffic jams, and weak-bladdered stumblebums turning her front lawn into a latrine.

Owners of The Palace and Moonshine Cafe, described in publicity brochures as the "hot rockin'...kingdom of cool," assured Kellis and 80 of her neighbors who signed petitions protesting the club's arrival that it would not harm their Lower Greenville neighborhood, a residential enclave a block west of the Arcadia.

But in the two weeks since the club opened, those promises have rung hollow.
The first Saturday night the club hosted live music, Professor D & the Playschool was so loud, "they might as well have been playing in my living room," says Kellis, who has owned her house since 1982. Her neighbors called the club three times to turn the music down, but as the hour grew later, the music, which lasted until 2 a.m., got louder. At one point, the neighbors called the police, but when they arrived, the band was taking a break.

When the band returned Sunday night, the problem was even more aggravating, as the din kept residents awake until 1:30 a.m., just hours before they had to get up for work.

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An advertising sales representative for a local radio station, Kellis was so frustrated by 10:30 p.m. Sunday that she called her councilman, John Loza, from a portable phone on her front porch. Loza's home answering machine caught his angry constituent's message, as well as the very audible music wafting through The Palace's stained-glass windows.

"The neighbors' concerns are legitimate," says Loza. "I wouldn't be thrilled with an ongoing major entertainment establishment across the street from my home." Loza has met with members of the neighborhood, as well as the club owners and a lawyer the club has retained. While the owners professed to be sensitive to the concerns of the neighborhood, Loza says only time will tell if "their actions live up to their words. But they are not off to a good start."

Last weekend, things went from bad to worse. The club booked the dinosaur rock band, Loverboy, which attracted a near-capacity crowd of between 250 and 300 people.

"It was the most amazing madhouse," says Bruce Richardson, who lives a block north of The Palace. "The traffic was even worse than the noise. It's as if they picked up the neighborhood and dropped it in the West End."

Cars were parked chockablock along both sides of Sears Street. There is no parking allowed on the south side of the street, but Kellis says the sign was removed during The Palace's renovation and was never replaced. Traffic was narrowed to a single lane, through which the club's valets raced on their way to retrieve cars. Horns blared incessantly to make other cars back up.

And the music of Loverboy, best known for its 17-year-old hit "Workin' for the Weekend," was even louder than that of the band the previous weekend. The band was so noisy, in fact, it violated the city's legally acceptable noise levels, according to readings taken by an investigator from the environmental division of the Dallas Department of Health. The club is on notice that it must comply with the local noise ordinance or face a possible citation.

The investigator, however, did issue the club a citation for allegedly violating the City Code's nuisance provision. "That ordinance is referred to as the nuisance ordinance, and it deals with disturbing the peace, comfort and enjoyment of one's private property," says Gary Rogan of the Dallas health department's environmental services division.

Reached in the Cedar Springs Road office of his petroleum company, Spencer Edwards, one of the principal investors and the driving force behind The Palace, refused to comment. "I just don't want to," says Edwards, who previously had no problem talking to the press about his vision of creating "Hard Rock Meets Caravan of Dreams," as he described his establishment to the club columnist for The Dallas Morning News in May. Edwards also spoke previously with the Dallas Observer about his plans before the club opened ["House of blues," November 13].

As the neighbors see it, they knew what they were getting into when they moved a few blocks from the boogie boulevard that is Lower Greenville. But none of them ever expected to be living right across the street from a "kingdom of cool."

"There is a very symbiotic relationship between Greenville Avenue and the residents, and it has benefited us both," says John Scarborough, who lives just east of Greenville, but owns a house that he rents at Sears and Summit. "But now they're encroaching on the neighborhood. They're taking over."  

Until 1991, the neighborhood that encompasses the Palace and Moonshine Cafe, which sits at the corner of Summit Street and Sears Avenue, was zoned commercial/residential, which allowed for unobtrusive commercial establishments such as hair salons and single-story law offices. But unknown to the neighbors, says Kellis, seven years ago the zoning was quietly changed to commercial/retail, which allows restaurants to open without having to seek a special-use permit, which requires a public hearing.

A bar, however, must obtain an SUP before opening here. According to the Dallas Department of Planning and Zoning, an establishment has to earn at least 25 percent of its gross revenue from food in order to be considered a restaurant. But all the city requires in the way of proof is for the club owner to file an affidavit with the city attesting to what he thinks the revenue breakdown is going to be. By claiming his venue is primarily a restaurant, Spencer proceeded to lease the Baptist church and open The Palace and Moonshine Cafe without having to notify any of the neighbors.

Open to the public for dinner, The Moonshine Cafe inhabits the basement and serves Creole cuisine prepared by the former chef of PoPoLos, a popular North Dallas restaurant. The Palace plans to host live music from Thursday to Sunday nights in the cavernous Grand Hall on the first floor, in addition to making it available for private functions. Although the building's temporary certificate of occupancy, as well as the management, puts the maximum occupancy at 300 people, including employees, their own brochures advertise a capacity of more than double that number--another concern for the neighborhood.

"That the place has the proper zoning is small comfort to the neighbors," says Councilman Loza, who nonetheless admits the residents have few options in protesting its existence.

And the options the neighbors do have--complaining to police, the fire marshal, and the health department, among others--are clearly grating on the owners' nerves.

"In the two weeks we've been open, we've gotten 35 phone calls from 35 entities, and I find it harassment at some point," says an indignant Elizabeth Edwards, sister of owner Spencer Edwards, who books private parties for the Palace.

As she sees it, the problem with the Loverboy concert was that it was a touring band, and therefore its equipment made it too loud. "It was my brother's own personal private concert," Edwards explains. "It was something he wanted, and the equipment was just too much. It was a one-time thing."

Both Loza and Bruce Richardson, who is a professional musician, find that argument absurd. "Quite frankly, I didn't know the decibel level depended on a group's popularity," says Loza. "That's a weird argument to say the least."

"Oh, please," says Richardson. "The entire side of the church is thin stained-glass windows. Any band is going to blow the place out."

Excuses aside, Edwards says her construction manager is working on improving the building's soundproofing. That will no doubt come in handy for the club's grand opening September 4, when Joe "King" Carrasco is scheduled to perform.

In addition, Edwards says the Sunday-night concert was too loud because so few people showed up, there weren't enough bodies to absorb the sound--another argument that defies both physics and logic. The next two Sunday-night concerts have been canceled, Edwards says, not out of concern for the neighborhood, but because of economics. When the summer is over and there is a possibility of attracting bigger crowds, Sunday-night concerts might resume, she admits.

Edwards says that they have tried to be courteous, but that when they have invited the neighbors over to tell them what they want, they don't tell them anything specific.

"We want what Spencer Edwards promised us," says Kellis. "No excessive noise; nothing would impact this side of the street; and they wouldn't run valet service over here. They've lied from day one."

Kellis' litany of complaints also includes the restaurant's kitchen exhaust, which faces her house and blows the smells from the kitchen at her house; the industrial air-conditioning unit that also increases the noise level; and the private garbage pickup that arrives at 4:30 a.m.

"We have a right to enjoy our own homes, to sit on our porches without being impacted by loud music, to sit in our dens without the windows rattling or having to turn the TV up to hear it, without cars racing up and down the block," says Kellis. "This kind of behavior wouldn't be tolerated in Lake Highlands or Lakewood, and we're just as residential as these other neighborhoods.

"If Dallas doesn't have a restriction to keep this from happening, it needs to [have one] now."  

Loza hopes he can get both sides to work together. "I know it's not going to be easy, but I hope we can a find a way, if not to make both sides completely happy, then at least to peacefully coexist. I hope we can get to that point."

But so far, Loza admits, The Palace is not off to a promising start.

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