Old Town restaurant gets second chance from Alexandria Planning Commission

By Derrick Perkins

Despite a lengthy list of noise complaints since opening King Street’s Agua Viva restaurant, co-owners Mike and Nick Cordero earned a stay of execution from the planning commission last week.

Neighbors began grumbling about the Latin fusion eatery’s excessive noise and late-night raucousness just five months after the Corderos set up shop in the 800 block, telling authorities music routinely spilled out of the restaurant into the early morning hours of weekdays. Police and planning department staff later confirmed the complaints, which constituted a violation of Agua Viva’s special use permit.

Though city officials met with management and issued fines, the steady stream of complaints and violations continued through June. City staff also cited the co-owners for illegal renovation work and offering outdoor dining without permission during their first year in business.

The laundry list culminated in what officials described as a rare appearance before the planning commission about a year-and-a-half after getting approval to run a restaurant along King Street.

“It is not usual we have violations; it is very unusual you see one of these one-year reviews come back through,” said Deputy Planning Director Barbara Ross. “It’s designed for exactly this [type of] case, and fortunately we don’t have to use it very much.”

Mike Cordero, testifying before the board, pleaded forgiveness. The owners were unaware of the early troubles with neighbors, he said, and worked to correct the problem as soon as they learned about the problem.

They have since invested in a new sound system — at a cost of $7,000 on top of $850 accrued in city fines — and installed a locking mechanism on the volume control, meaning only the owners or manager can tweak the noise level.

“I’m a chef, I’m a restaurant owner,” Mike Cordero said. “After all the complaints we had, we started investigating and tried to get the right speakers in there, the right sound. … At times we didn’t even know that we were getting a complaint until two months later or a month later. We couldn’t fix that problem right away.”

Taking away the restaurant’s ability to play music — which is within the commission’s scope of power — would likely end with them going out of business, Mike Cordero said.

Despite receiving an unconfirmed complaint in the days preceding the meeting, city staff recommended reapproving the restaurant. And after hearing from an appeased neighbor, planning commission members opted to give the restaurant a second chance — with a few new restrictions, such as requiring soundproofing.

“City staff is interested in solving the problem rather than closing a business,” said Ross. “If there is a way to allow the business to continue while minimizing the impacts on the neighbors, then that is the best solution.”

Still, future violations could result in the Corderos losing the draw of music and another appearance before the planning commission. Mike Cordero pledged to keep the restaurant out of trouble.

“We’re proactive,” he said. “We want the neighbors to be happy with us. We want them to eat in our restaurant; we don’t want to be a nuisance to the area.”

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