Bel Rio Angering Belmont Residents

The battle over the volume of music at Belmont’s Bel Rio restaurant continues, Rachana Dixit writes in today’s Daily Progress. City Council overhauled the noise ordinance a few months ago just to deal with Bel Rio, and city staff seem to be spending a lot of time on the matter, but a technical problem seems to be hampering the efforts: the fact that decibel meters have a hard time measuring the sort of deep, thumpy bass that can make life miserable for folks who live next to music-playing neighbors (though the maker of the meter they use disagrees). Neighbors on the formerly sleepy street are infuriated by the two-year-old restaurant’s behavior, saying that it’s really reduced their quality of life there.

We dealt with the same scenario back in the mid-nineties with the Jewish Mother, a restaurant on the Downtown Mall that featured noisy live music until very late at night, which was awfully frustrating for downtown residents. As with Bel Rio, the city had to consider proposed changes to a city-wide noise ordinance just to deal with the one rude restaurant owner. Luckily, the Jew Mom went out of business, and that was the end of that. When I lived on South Street in the mid-nineties, the South Street Brewery opened up next door, and my quiet apartment was rendered uninhabitable on Friday and Saturday nights, when they featured live music about twenty feet from my head until the wee hours of the morning. I moved out when my lease was up. I’ve got nothing but sympathy for Bel Rio’s neighbors.

32 Responses to “Bel Rio Angering Belmont Residents”


  • The major issue with Jewish mother was poor cooling so they would open the windows and pour the noise onto the mall. Escafe had some trouble as it faced the pricey condo up that “noise alley” between the Ice Park and the Omni.

    In conversation with residents that I know in the area the noise is made even worse by people leaving, having had a few and with ears ringing and talking VERY loud.

    So my question remains, why cant Bel Rio just turn the volume down?

  • I live near the intersection of Rugby Road, Dairy Road, and the 250 bypass, where the now-defunct “Lodge” fraternity house is now being rented out. It seems to be rented increasingly frequently for parties, and the whole neighborhood gets to dance along because the bands are playing outdoors. If I wanted this, I’d have lived on Rugby Road proper where all the frat houses are.

  • @Nitra’s Dad: which groups are renting and using the Lodge?

  • This is where the role of discretion in enforcement is important — and if they *must* follow the laws to the letter (and not the spirit), at least stick in a clause about “reasonable volume” and “interfering with activities in surrounding neighborhood”.

  • Mad Gurl Dapper Pearl

    It’s good that more and more idealists live up the street from noisy eateries. The more people who experience the problems, the fewer will preach sprinkling commercial establishments among bedrooms where people sleep.

    There are people who want that cruel commercial integration, and people like the late Mitch Van Yahres, one-time mayor and state delegate, who urge the spread of low-cost and high density housing throughout the city including in higher class neighborhoods.

    Pollyannas are confused. They think easing the acquiring of other people’s valuables leads to acquiring their values.

  • The city is right to use some sort of objective measure of decibels rather than basing land use decisions off of subjective impression of noise level. One of the things about civilization is that we have to compromise in order to live in the presence of other people. Restaurants may have to turn down the volume, and homeowners may have to tolerate a certain volume level at certain times. That’s something Belmont is going to have to negotiate, but we can’t assume the homeowners are right simply because they are complaining a lot.

    To the commenter above who suggests spreading people and activities out as far as possible, so we that can hermetically seal off our lives from each other into completely privatized bubbles, we simply don’t have the land and energy to achieve this utopian fantasy. We tried sprawl but it didn’t make good on its promises. Yes, that means “higher class” people may have to live near people they find unsavory. And we may not get complete silence whenever we want it.

  • These businesses helped promote the Gentrification of these areas, by making them hip and trendy destination spots. Shouldn’t that count for something? Especially if you arrived after they were already established and are now complaining?

    I can still remember the pre-gentrified Belmont when it was generally considered not safe to be there after dark, when most of the residents were extremely low income and/or working poor, when most of the businesses were Mom and Pop Grocers, who’s mainstay like many convenience stores today was alcohol and tobacco sales and who didn’t attract the type of clientele that raised property values.

  • The gentrification of Belmont had already begun in the mid to late 80’s when I moved here. Most of the people I knew back then lived in Belmont and none of them were extremely low income. They tended to be UVA grads who had decided to stay in the area. Many of them were writers, artists, and other creative people, who as is often the case, made the place hip and as a group were then priced out when the house flippers and yuppies with kids moved in. It perhaps an imperfect illustration since Belmont and Hogwaller aren’t precisely the same areas, but the Hogwaller Ramblers have been playing under that name for nearly 20 years.

  • a place to stand

    @boss o’ me

    Look at the spin that you’re putting on groups according to your own biases:

    “Many of them were writers, artists, and other creative people, who as is often the case, made the place hip…”

    “the house flippers and yuppies with kids moved in…”

    Someone with a different angle might say:

    “deadbeats who think recreational drinking and late rent payment are essential components of a Bohemian credo”

    “solid tax-paying citizens with an interest in improving the community”

    I’ve lived in Cville for 50 years and remember Belmont for the working class neighborhood that it was–with pockets of white trash mayhem as well as solid lower-middle citizens. As a kid I’ve been in Hogwallow for the livestock auction, in my 20’s I got drunk and played my guitar music with poet & sculptor friends off of the canned beer bought across the street in the Belmont Market, and in my 40’s commiserated with friends over their decision to leave Belmont in the 90’s due to crime issues.

    I can understand the resentment people have toward hipsters who produce as much posturing and bohemian squalor as they do real artistic output. And that towards “flipsters” who regard communities as spreadsheet equations. And the same for the indigenous miscreants who let their children waddle in the dirt front yard in diapers.

    But all these arguments about what Belmont was/is/will be are just opinion and anecdote without some data, eg median home assessment & income, police statistics, and age & education demographics.

  • Hmm… When I was growing up, then biggest concern in Belmont was how many people were going to get shot or robbed. To me it does seem clear that, like them or not, artists and hipsters made the place a hot real estate commodity which brought in restaurants and such. Flippers then somehow sold wanna-be hipsters on what a cool town it was to live in, so they moved there and now complain about the noise. So to summarize:

    Old Belmont: Getting Shot
    New Belmont: Too much noise

    Which one do you prefer? Seems to me people have a responsibility to research a neighborhood before they buy, and if they really wanted Glenmore then they should have moved there instead (However, if you aren’t robbed by the kids in your gated community, then it will be by your neighborhood association president).

    Also, I really liked the Jewish Mother, it was a good venue and I felt that there too was a battle between the “Old Downtown Mall” and the “New Downtown Mall”. After all, should we also shut down fridays after five, street performers, and such?

  • Responsibly intense development “means “higher class” people may have to live near people they find unsavory.”

    How comforting that the major apostles of local urbanism have voluntarily moved into high-density configurations with the unsavory local working class, large numbers of whom are crazed alcoholic killers. What sacrifice! What egalitarian resolve! What principles!

    Before we only knew local urbanists as environmental wizards; but now we know them to be the forgers of a new economic, racial, and societal diversity — though dangerous to their health second-hand smoke, poor child-rearing, and gunplay may be.

    Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised; after all, we do live in the shadow of Jefferson’s grand and tolerant academic village — walkable and socially diverse Ivy!

    I commend Mr. Grisham, the board at Charlottesville Tomorrow, and the major donor list for the PEC for living by the very tightly-configured, walkable, urbanist principles they advocate. After all, what is responsible land-use unless it moves beyond comfortably distanced sermon to become a personal lifestyle!

  • Mad Gurl Dapper Pearl

    The right to keep people awake at night in their bedrooms is not in the constitution, even though bad elements think it should be.

  • a place to stand

    @Tiger This is unfair: “Seems to me people have a responsibility to research a neighborhood before they buy”.

    No one was crying foul with Mas (that I’m aware of), Fitzgerald Tires or Tasse (or whatever it’s called). There was something in the triangle prior to Mas even. It doesn’t seem so much of a titration point/straw on the camel’s back issue or “I’ve moved in now stop being mixed use”. Rather there’s a big change that’s occurred with Bel Rio. Fellow musicians and nightlife lovers have commented about how seedy the place is and all the after-party drugs, stabbings, etc. have taken place among their patrons. Word has it that Jim Baldi comes from a family that ran strip joints, so (yes this risks ad hominem and genetic faults) maybe there’s some innate sleaze that attaches to the man (and maybe not).

    Are these people asking for gated community sterility? Nah. And if someone has lived in Belmont for over 20 years then they are definitely pre-gentrification and have the right to say “This ain’t Belmont”. Some of the complainants have been in this latter group, so it’s not all “Oh gosh why are all the icky people in my new funky neighborhood?”.

    There’s a difference between random acts and programmatic disturbance, with Bel Rio belonging to the latter class. It’s not unfair for people to ask for reasonable volumes and hours in a residential area. I’d bet that most of those complaining truly like the heterogeneity of their neighborhood.

  • @a place to stand, you make a fair and balanced case. If I’m hearing you correctly, you aren’t saying that a music venue is automatically inappropriate, but rather that Bel Rio definitely is. I suppose the problem from a policy standpoint is how do you allow a music venue but only the right kind?

    @Crozet Resident, yes we know, you are on a crusade against New Urbanism. Fine, so what should the development model look like? Should it be little boxes and cul-de-sacs as far as the eye can see, with no sidewalks and no greenspace? I’m guessing that your main complaint stems from the developments you’ve seen in our area that you think are new urbanism. Problem is… I’ve yet to see one that actually follows that model, so you’re arguing against something that’s never actually been implemented here (unless perhaps you want to count the Downtown Mall).

  • In response to commenters blaming this disagreement on urban density:

    Remember that people everywhere complain about stuff. In the countryside, it’s the guy who doesn’t mow his lawn, or the traffic on the commute into work, or the vineyards and their raucous parties, or the renegade fruit stands. In every neighborhood there is a certain number of people who get themselves worked up about how everything is falling to pieces around them. Sometimes these concerns are legitimate and sometimes they are overblown, and it’s usually the role of the government to find a fair balance between the inevitable intersections of property rights. This is par for the course.

    In the midst of a fight, complaints tend to be exaggerated. I would not assume from these stories that living in Belmont really is hell on earth, otherwise I doubt the property values would be what they are.

  • a place to stand

    Yeah…tough call. It would be interesting to have an ad hoc committee of eight or so people from outside the neighborhood listen to the environment from various vantage points in some of the “din hours/nights” and see what they thought. I certainly can’t say from firsthand knowledge that Bel Rio *definitely* is the problem; that’s just surmise on my part.

    I just don’t see why Bel Rio can’t limit electric blowouts to Friday & Saturday with music cut off promptly at 1am and just have peacenik singer/songwriters on other nights. And really electric bands don’t need to be loud enough to accomodate the notches in the soundman’s hearing. But maybe they’ve already done a lot to heel in the noise and the inertia of a vendetta against them is what we see. Would the noise levels found outside a posh club like Blues Alley in DC be comparable to those of Bel Rio?

    Noise levels notwithstanding, it just doesn’t seem possible to have that many restaurants & clubs active and have any hope of happy solution to parking and the boisterous return of animated/liquored-up patrons to cars parked in front of houses where residents are trying to sleep.

  • Perhaps Baldi would be willing to give his phone number out to the people in the area and let them call him when they are woken late at night, or on their way to work early the next day…

    I bet he would be happy to receive phone calls at 1AM, 5AM etc.

  • Tigernach, your argument reminds of a professor who contended that Marxist systems had failed because she had yet to see a system that was purely 100% committed to Marxist ideology. She believed that until we saw 100% purity of ideological commitment, we should expect some experimental flaws and keep trying.

    Libertarianism, new urbanism, and Marxists press the same argument. But, rather than proving an ideology is effective only at 100 percent purity, the argument may prove its adherent’s are committed to enforcing ideological purity. How long do you think you’ll have to wait until you see the perfect new urban development in Albemarle? How many attempts do you propose?

    If we do finally build a 100% pure new urban development, do you think the urbanists will finally move in and eschew commuting? Why not move into a 80 percent pure urbanist neighborhood while we are waiting for perfection?

    Finally, though I am skeptical of CuriousObserver’s feeling that the complaints of the Belmont residents are exaggerated, some points in his second paragraph ring true. It is better to live in a heavily-populated neighborhood with considerate neighbors, than in a rural community with callous neighbors.

    Urbanism is an idea and a belief. An idea doesn’t make dead-city noise, regardless of whether an urbanist or two may wish to force residents to live with noise nearby. However, more people in an smaller area drives the likelihood of a noisy night up considerably. Perhaps this is what those committed new urbanists who prefer a lifestyle with a long commute and a peaceful large lot know so well.

  • a place to stand

    @Crozet: It’s obvious that you want to say something meaningful and clever. So far you’re not. Here’s why:

    >

    –A concise and convincing “Why?” would be appropriate here. Have you really done serious reading on the topic? The anti-gentrification folks would counter that the presence of these people and the rise in property values that they bring drives the riff-raff out.

    >

    >

    –Nice histrionics; no further comment needed.

    >

    >

    Indeed. And the issue at hand is whether or not a particular establishment needs to be curbed for the greater social good, not ideologies.

    >

    I think the fact that a number of people have already done so was the thrust of your snarky first post, no?

    Again the issue is whether or not Bel Rio should be more considerate of its neighbors. I don’t see that you’ve come anywhere near it yet…

  • “Urbanism is an idea and a belief.”

    Ask the residents of Georgetown, or old town Alexandria, or the newer neighborhood of Kentlands why they are paying an enormous premium to live within an idea. They would knock on the wood of the wall, if that’s what it takes to prove its existence to you. Are they 100% new urbanist places? I don’t know what that means, but they certainly exhibit many of the positive attributes urbanists strive for. Really, any neighborhood built in an urban area prior to 1940 does pretty well to some degree.

    You seem to be starting from the principle that the country life is the only good life, and that density and quality of life are inversely proportional. That preference may work for you, but others get tired of all of the motoring, like having neighbors close by, and enjoy the cost savings of proximity. For about 60 years now, we’ve built to serve one market segment that prefers suburbia, one that happens to be receding now. There are a limited number of great urban neighborhoods, many of which are out of price range for the middle class. For every person who chooses sprawl willingly, there’s another who is pushed out by lack of supply.

    Noise is one issue, but good neighborhoods all over the country have been able to mitigate the problem well enough.

  • a place to stand

    Botched post…the web server doesn’t take to angle brackets well.

    @Crozet: It’s obvious that you want to say something meaningful and clever. So far you’re not. Here’s why:

    –Responsibly intense development “means “higher class” people may have to live near people they find unsavory.”

    *A concise and convincing “Why?” would be appropriate here. Have you really done serious reading on the topic? The anti-gentrification folks would counter that the presence of these people and the rise in property values that they bring drives the riff raff out.

    –the unsavory local working class, large numbers of whom are crazed alcoholic killers
    –though dangerous to their health second-hand smoke, poor child-rearing, and gunplay may be

    *Nice histrionics; no further comment needed.

    –She believed that until we saw 100% purity of ideological commitment, we should expect some experimental flaws and keep trying.

    –Urbanism is an idea and a belief.

    Indeed. And the issue at hand is whether or not a particular establishment needs to be curbed for the greater social good, not ideologies.

    –Why not move into a 80 percent pure urbanist neighborhood while we are waiting for perfection?

    I think the fact that a number of people have already done so was the thrust of your snarky first post, no?

    Again the issue is whether or not Bel Rio should be more considerate of its neighbors. And so far you haven’t come near that. So much for the town hall meeting ideology.

  • Just Bob,

    So you are saying that we should be thanking a loud business owner for having helped to drive out the working poor from the neighborhoods that they grew up in?

    Pause for a moment and consider how much of an asshole that comment make you.

  • Crozet Resident, you still haven’t answer my question… so fine, you hate New Urbanism. You still haven’t suggested what you’d prefer. All I can guess is that you hate sidewalks, parks, and walkable communities and believe that growth should be completely unconstrained.

    Furthermore, when you speak of New Urbanism, I’m guessing you are talking about the Neighborhood Model which bears only a slight resemblance to New Urbanism. CuriousObserver is right in that the best example isn’t necessarily new developments but rather older communities.

  • You assert that property in Alexandria is expensive because residents are rushing to live in a perfected form of new urbanism. Though I respect your economic interpretation, I don’t share it. Those neighborhoods are expensive because of their proximity to the nation’s capital. If they changed form to ‘Dunlora in DC’, their value would not collapse. They would remain expensive, if not even more prohibitively so.

    You continually demand that residents must answer as to what developments must be built. Then, you repeat the question, as if you can assume no other answer is permitted. My view is there is a sustainable level of development that, once exceeded, will erode standards of living, environment, and quality of life. Urbanism accelerated and eased the process of creating thousands of development rights in a relatively short amount of time. Yes, I do prefer to live in a country setting; it is my ideal and goal.

    You assert those who created the neighborhood model were not well-versed in new urbanism. Unfortunately, the neighborhood model was based on new urbanism. The model increases intensity of development, promotes rezonings to increase density, urges the construction of sidewalks, limits parking, and urging the integration of residential and commercial development. Those who worked on the model were often well-intentioned, even if I disagree their beliefs as to the effects of their efforts. They were not, as you imply, ignorant and unable to understand pure new urbanism.

    Finally, I sympathize with the residents of Belmont. The Bel Rio is in an area targeted for more commercial integration. The trend to integrate commercial establishments is, in no small part, enhanced by current ideals/beliefs. For instance, a nearby rezoning in 2009 was justified by a supportive speaker as a place “where people want to walk, not to increase parking, but rather to reduce the necessity to have people get in their car and drive to a destination”.

    Though I haven’t heard the noise levels, and no one from Belmont has spoken to it in this thread, I sympathize with the residents. Common sense suggests that mixing clubs and residential areas will produce sleepless nights. I am skeptical that those who do believe the two must mix — for whatever reason — will ever change their mind. Residents can’t be sure that a new noise ordinance would be enforced but for a short time, until the publicity dies down. That said, why not make an effort?

    Tigernach, you demand answers (and a my shiny development plat) quite vociferously and avoid the same, though I am perfectly comfortable and relaxed in answering yours. How many attempts should be made at the pure new urban development? How did those who drew up the “neighborhood model” make it more like the unconstrained growth you cite? And finally, does an advocate for the moral responsibility of a lifestyle have a moral obligation to live the lifestyle they advocate? Should someone demand a lifestyle of others they will not live in return?

  • a place to stand

    Crozet you need a blog or a muzzle, or just a quick reminder, OK another one, of what the topic was.

    Clue: It wasn’t your thoughts on urban planning.

  • Circus Peanut Chef

    When I was a student at Charlottesville High School in the 1970’s, Belmont was a poor but very proud neighborhood that many of my high school classmates lived in!

    I never go to Belmont for anything. I drive through, and to tell you the truth, it looks as depressing, old, and run-down as it did 35 years-ago. I couldn’t even tell you what goes on in there.

    Unless it changes it’s name, it’s always going to have a poor image as far being able to sell homes and property there, I would think?!

    I live in Sherwood Manor, which is getting old also!

  • Urbanism accelerated and eased the process of creating thousands of development rights in a relatively short amount of time. Yes, I do prefer to live in a country setting; it is my ideal and goal.

    No, this has no basis in New Urbanism. Nowhere does it say “…and thou shalt great a growth area, and a rural area, and it shalt be good”. Neither does it say “…and thall shalt depopulate all country areas, and force everyone to relacate to the growth Area” (nor does the Neighborhood Model say that either).

    Sure, I’d absolutely agree with you if you were to claim that New Urbanism can be a form of green-washing; however, you seem to make the claim the county would be better off without any development standards or planning. While I was never a fan of the way the growth areas were implemented, it’s far better than if the county was developed entirely by right.

    The fact is, we have a City, and we have growth areas. Seems like you are saying that not only should we not encourage mixed use in those growth areas, but we should also mandate that existing dense area NOT be mixed use (i.e. music venues should only occur in commercial districts). We have a pure commercial district already on 29 North starting at the bypass, and I do have to say it’s quite beautiful. I think it’d be a fantastic idea to allow 29 style development anywhere in the county by right by eliminating the growth areas and the neighborhood model.

    Facc it, you’re just complaining without suggesting any better alternative thus rendering your point and perhaps this discussion somewhat pointless.

  • Waldo, I really need a preview button. Sorry about my atrocious editing. I shouldn’t be allowed to type (especially not with blockquotes) before the caffeine has taken effect.

  • Jack wrote:


    Just Bob,

    So you are saying that we should be thanking a loud business owner for having helped to drive out the working poor from the neighborhoods that they grew up in?

    Pause for a moment and consider how much of an asshole that comment make you.

    @Jack- back atcha buddy. As if I really care what you think of me (I don’t).

    Seriously though- don’t attribute to me what I didn’t write.

    My main point-

    1. If you arrived *after* the place is hip and trendy- then (in my opinion) you don’t have any grounds to complain- you knew what you were buying into.

    The rest of it was simply a statement of fact. And not a judgment on my part as to whether it was good or bad.

    I’m a Cville native born and raised and I can’t afford to live in the neighborhood where I grew up.

    That doesn’t make my point- item 1 any less valid.

  • Its the “airport clause.” If you move in next to an airport, you dont have much room to complain about airplanes.

  • A capsule history of Belmont: It originally was a working class neighborhood,white blue collar. People who worked for the railroad, for Frank Ix, Monticello Dairy and many other local industries lived there. Most of the housing was owner-occupied.
    In the 60s and 70s, a lot of the older residents loved away or died off and a lot of housing became rental property, and problems with crime,property not being maintained,litter, and so forth became an issue in parts of Belmont.
    In the 90s it started to turn around with new people moving in, renovating older properties and living in them. For instance, Hinton Avenue, once full of flophouses that violated all sorts of city codes started to turn around as new residents reported negligent landlords and insisted that the area be cleaned up. Many of these people were professionals like University employees who found Belmont more affordable than other neighbors, yet convenient to Downtown and the University.
    Of course residents have a right to complain about a noisy nightclub coming in! The city is to blame for permitting such to go into a residential neighborhood. Some types of businesses, like groceries, car repair,diners had long existed in Belmont. But they did did carry on their business in late night hours, and fit in well.
    I lived in Belmont,Stonehenge Avenue 1981-84, and Monticello Road near Spudnut 1984-1993,and never felt that I was in a bad neighborhood, like some keep calling Belmont. Frankly, I see a lot of snobbery and prejudice toward white working class people in much of the anti-Belmont commentary that goes on. It never ceases to amaze me how so many of see themselves as “liberals” who would never use a racial slur use expressions such as “white trash” and “trailer trash” to refer to lower socioeconomic individuals who happen to be of European ancestry.
    Sorry to get away from the subject, but that sort of thing infuriates me. I grew up in very modest circumstances in a rural Virginia county, and yes this is personal.

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