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Armory 'Cannot Survive Without Some Relief,' Says Arts Center's Lawyer

As The Center for Arts at the Armory seeks extended hours and occupancy limits, neighbors complain about disturbances and fear the arts center could morph into a night club.

"The situation is not a sustainable one at this point," said Adam Dash, a lawyer for , speaking about the Highland Avenue arts center's financial situation.

Dash spoke Wednesday night at a public hearing held by the Somerville Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Armory is seeking to extend its hours, increase its occupancy, cook meals on site, create outdoor cafe seating and receive permission to apply for a full liquor license. Due to restrictions placed on the operation of the Armory, the Zoning Board of Appeals must approve these requests.

Dash said The Center for Arts at the Armory is struggling to attract events, such as theatrical performances and concerts, because it can't stay open late enough or allow enough people into the venue. To remain in business, the non-profit is seeking the changes.

"If you don't want these things to change, you will not have an Arts at the Armory," Dash said.

Among other things, The Armory wants to stay open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday (it's currently open until 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and until 11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.) It also wants to increase its maximum capacity from 390 people to 495 people (building codes would allow 900 standing people if it weren't for zoning restrictions, Dash said).

Many neighbors of The Amory, however, adamantly opposed allowing such changes to the way the arts center operates, citing disturbances such as noise from loud parties and bands, large delivery trucks idling at late hours and a massive parking squeeze in the neighborhood.

"The neighborhood is being railroaded," said John Sullivan, a neighbor.

A handful of Somerville aldermen spoke at the hearing, all expressing their general support for The Center for Arts at the Armory, but mostly siding with neighbors when it comes to capacity, operating hours and the liquor license issue.

"I think, here tonight, this proposal goes too far," said Alderman At-Large Dennis Sullivan.

"It would fall on the backs of the neighbors," said Alderman At-Large Bruce Desmond.

Some, such as Ward 5 Alderman Sean O'Donovan and Ward 3 Alderman Thomas Taylor, suggested neighbors and the Armory go through a mediation process.

Among those supporting the Armory's proposal was the . Stephen Mackey, president of the Chamber of Commerce, called the Armory a "jewel" and that "in order to compete" against other Boston-area venues "it needs to have the tools."

Dash warned Zoning Board of Appeals members against too much delay. "Arts at the Armory's finances are very much at the edge," he said, adding that if the board delays making a decision by months, there might not be a Center for Arts at the Armory. "It's not a threat, I'm just trying to explain the situation," he said.

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jennifer D. September 06, 2012 at 11:16 AM
Good luck to the Amory. I would be sad if it closed. I think the longer hours, more music, and the changes they want sound like a good idea. I would absolutely want a place like that in my neighborhood. It makes it a more desirable place to live when there are things to do.
James Bergman September 06, 2012 at 12:31 PM
As someone who lives directly behind the Armory, I am in full support of its request and find it an indispensable resource for the neighborhood. Additionally, although there is a bit of a parking squeeze on Saturdays on Hudson Street, I have not noticed any additional disturbances from it.
Matt C September 06, 2012 at 12:40 PM
One question to ask is would neighbors prefer to have a decaying unused building that will pull down their property values or a thriving arts center which will be a draw to the neighborhood. I can see them coming to a compromise by strongly restricting or eliminating the out door aspects or the proposal and keeping the time open no later than midnight.
jo September 06, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Good- I hope they lose they are nothing but liars ... They have not told the truth from before they purchased the building until now
Benjamin Mako Hill September 06, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Having a thriving cultural center in the neighborhood is worth the compromises -- which are real. I live at the very center of Davis, so I understand that the tradeoff is real.
Ron Newman September 06, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I support all of the Armory's requests except for the 1 am closing -- that would disperse people into the neighborhood at a time when no public transit is running, and would tie up every taxi in the city. It seems reasonable to end shows by midnight.
Jonah Petri September 06, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I think mediation sounds like a reasonable course of action here. I don't think the needs of the residents and the needs of the Armory are necessarily in conflict. Given the right incentives, they could work it out. It could be good for everyone involved, and great for Somerville.
Tom O'Brien September 07, 2012 at 02:14 AM
The owners of the Armory building have been disingenous from the start. Let's not forget that they agreed to all of the conditions, which were reasonable since they were moving into a very dense neighborhood. Let's also remember that after being told they couldn't have a kitchen onsite, they began to build one anyway. Kudos to the city for catching it and stopping it. If they cannot make it work then so be it, they should have had a better business plan going in. I seem to remember that they agreed to host such things as art gallery showings and children's art classes, and it seems like it didn't take long for them to ditch that and move their focus to live music events. Disgraceful.
jennifer D. September 07, 2012 at 11:51 AM
I really wish they did stick to the original plan of art gallery shows and and classes. I would like to see it stay open & move more in the direction of the Art Asylum, Arsenal Center for the Arts or Third Life Studio, and have the music & food be more of an after thought. I think that would fit in better for the community.
grover September 08, 2012 at 12:46 PM
I think the,armory shoulf have punk rock saturday matinees. With food catered from eat at jumbos... That would really shake up the neighborhood.... Jk the building has 1 close neighbor im guessing against the armory? other are a street or parking lot away. Maybe sound proof the building? Instead of just saying they are please explian in more detail. Im curious?
grover September 08, 2012 at 12:48 PM
just saying liars isnt fair
jo September 08, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Liars as in they say they want one thing then do something else?? They say they want art shows and then want live music... they say they want beer and wine.-- now a full liquor license-they say they will close early -now want 1a.m.?-- they say limited food and start building a full kitchen..............need I go on?
Somerville Home Owner September 08, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I agree with the Armory's requests. @Ron: If they tie up taxis, then maybe there should be more available or longer MBTA hours. MBTA shuts down too early anyway.
Somerville Home Owner September 08, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Somerville needs successful businesses. Seems like the city speaks about trying to attract business but when business owners say what they need, they are rejected.
jo September 08, 2012 at 02:46 PM
You must be a Somerville Home Owner who lives in West Somerville or anywhere else for that matter not near the armory.............clearly you have no clue what kind of noise will be generated with a bunch of drunks leaving a music venue at 1 a.m.--
Jonah Petri September 08, 2012 at 03:02 PM
I agree it's tough to live with noise late at night. Especially for those of us who have an early morning the next day, or a small child who's going to wake up. Noise is an issue all over the city, though, as we've got heavy traffic, late parties next door, idling buses, low-flying airplanes... It's something we should work to minimize across the city. I hope that the Armory and the neighbors can work something out to minimize the noise. It doesn't have to be terrible for the neighbors! Businesses are important. Neighborhoods are important. This is an important test of the city's ability to make things work.
Rebecca September 10, 2012 at 02:02 PM
It comes down to this....the Armory agreed to some very strict restrictions on their buisness permit. Apparently they either didn't mean it when they signed it, or didn't really have a valid business plan with research and data on what would and wouldn't work. Why should the neighborhood suffer because they have decided the restrictions just don't work for them. That is their fault and it should be their loss. I'm sure there are others who would be happy to have that space and occupy it legally. The restrictions are necessary because it is a very tight residential neighborhood (including a nursing home with elderly housing directly across the street), and they do not have anything near sufficient parking. They have already ignored the permit by attempting to add a kitchen, I say one strike and you're out. By the way, does anyone know if they have ever held ANY arts classes for kids, which was a huge part of their proposal?
cp kostos October 25, 2012 at 02:02 AM
This group is the same group who run the Near East night club in Central Square Cambridge. Check out the police blotter on the number of complaint calls and visits the Cambridge Police Dept. have made to their establishment throuout the years. They're initial intent could have been for the same use, to open a nightclub in this location to begin with. Otherwise, why would they want to extend the hours and request a full liquor license? They came in with a plan that was initially approved. If it isn't working, sell the building to a user who respects the residential neighborhood's needs. This is NOT Central Square! Shame on City Hall for falling for this charade.

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