Mt. Airy neighbors overwhelmingly rejected a business owner’s proposal to operate an event space on 5-7 W. Mt. Airy Ave.
Mt. Airy neighbors overwhelmingly rejected a business owner’s proposal to operate J’Excellence Event Hall, an event space on 5-7 W. Mt. Airy Ave., during a Wednesday evening WMAN community meeting, citing concerns over parking and noise.
The group voted 32-0 against the project, while WMAN’s zoning committee rejected it by a 6-0 vote. The owners are seeking a special exception to operate an event hall at the location, the former site of a daycare center.
J’Excellence’s zoning attorney, Kenniah Chestnut, told residents at the meeting that her clients were seeking to “upgrade the venue to offer an elegant venue space for all occasions,” like birthday parties, graduation parties, baby showers and small weddings.
“J’Excellence's vision is to create luxury event spaces with unique personalized experiences,” she continued. “It is their goal to provide professional event planning services for individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations ensuring unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.”
J’Excellence, which is located just off the bustling Germantown Avenue business district in Mt. Airy, has been operating as an event space since April of this year despite not yet having obtained a special exception. It’s located near other bars and public gathering spaces on Germantown Avenue, including Bar Lizette and McMenamin’s Tavern.
According to co-owner Shas Warner, the business is legally allowed to operate without the special exception as long as it keeps gatherings to under 50 people. The space has the capacity to accommodate 200 people.
The city, however, said the event space is technically operating illegally. According to city spokesperson Shemeka Moore, the business was denied an event venue permit in November. The business later appealed the ruling, but a decision on the appeal has yet to be made.
“No Business/Operator is allowed to operate until they have all required approvals in hand and inspections have been completed,” Moore said in an email.
In the short time that the business has been operating – even with limited capacity – neighbors say their community has already been disrupted by guests who are coming to the venue.
Terry Spross, a resident who lives across the street from the business, said she came home at 2 a.m. one night to find people, who seemed to come from the event hall, still talking loudly and hanging around the area into the early hours of the morning.
“I waited for about 45 minutes because I didn't want to cause any trouble,” she said at the meeting. “I finally did call the police and told them that these people are still partying until 2:30 a.m. in the morning.”
Spross’ next-door neighbor, Ron Radke, had a similar experience. He came home late one night to find people hanging around the area after the event.
“These people weren't being loud or anything,” he said. “They were just talking on the street, but it's a [quiet] residential street, and I could tell you word for word what they were saying.”
Parking, Radke and other residents said, was also a concern.
A letter to the zoning board written by WMAN’s zoning chair Ralph Pinkus also cited residents’ complaints about public urination and litter left on the street by guests at these events.
In response to complaints of unruly guests, Warner told residents that she would start withholding deposits from guests who did not abide by the rules of the rental contracts, which stipulate that they must vacate the premises by 1 a.m. – an hour past closing time – on Friday and Saturday nights, and 10 p.m. on weekdays. Because management can’t be in attendance at every event, Warner added, they would monitor cameras that are placed outside the building. She also said that security guards are required for events in excess of 100 people.
The proposal is scheduled to go before the city’s zoning board on Wednesday, Aug. 9.
The parcel is zoned CMX 2.5, which does allow for event halls. However, because of a zoning overlay in the neighborhood, the city’s zoning board can prevent the use if neighbors successfully argue that the event hall negatively impacts the neighborhood’s character in any number of ways, including if it causes excessive traffic congestion, overcrowding, limits light or air to adjacent properties, burdens public facilities or is inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.