Classical Movements permit approved

Classical Movements permit approved
Audience members are required to wear masks and are seated at least 6 feet apart at Classical Movements' concerts. (Photo/Classical Movements)

By Will Schick |

City Council unanimously approved a special use permit allowing local concert tour company Classical Movements to resume hosting live outdoor concerts at its headquarters on Princess Street, during Saturday’s public hearing. The approval includes several changes that were made to the application that limit the number of concerts Classical Movements can put on each day and the hours those concerts can be held.

In the original proposal submitted by Classical Movements, the company had asked to host outdoor concerts for weddings and special events between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. for a total of eight days per month. Accepting a recommendation from the Planning Commission, council decided to restrict the hours of the concerts and have them end at 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 8 p.m. on weekdays.

Council also expressly limited the number of outdoor concerts permitted during a day to four, one-hour performances. In keeping with state-wide COVID-19 restrictions, outdoor seating is limited to 50. Now, instead of granting Classical Movements license to hold outdoor concerts in perpetuity, both the Planning Commission and City Council will review the SUP after one year.

Last spring, Classical Movements reached out to the city multiple times to inquire about the process for obtaining approval to host outdoor concerts at its Princess Street location. After months of receiving no response, Classical Movements pushed forward and ended up hosting a series of small, socially distanced outdoor concerts through the summer and fall.

However, a single noise complaint filed with the city in November halted the concerts and finally attracted the eyes of city authorities. The complaint resulted in months of bureaucratic obstacles for Classical Movements that ultimately resulted in the organization having to cancel a number of their planned concerts and apply for a special use permit. Council’s approval allows Classical Movements to proceed with another set of concerts.

Following the approval, Classical Movements announced its spring and summer concert schedule featuring 40 live concerts between March 27 and Aug. 26. Concerts will include musicians performing everything from opera and chamber music to cabaret and tango.

While neighbors and the community have largely supported Classical Movements in its attempt to put on small-scale, socially distanced concerts, some residents spoke in opposition to the permit on Saturday. They characterized the performances as loud annoyances which have come to disrupt their daily lives.

“The concerts are so loud they can be heard very clearly inside our home,” Guy Lamolinara, whose property is located within 100 feet of Classical Movements’ secluded garden at 711 Princess St., said.

Lamolinara added that his wife suffers from chronic migraines and that the music from the concerts prevent her from being able to rest in peace when she needs to.

“The rear of our home has a sunroom on the first floor and a bedroom on the second, and these are the places she seeks the quiet she needs when she is stricken with these horrible headaches. The proposed concerts, weddings, showers and other events prevent her from doing so,” Lamolinara said.

Lamolinara also said it was not just about the mu-sic. According to Lamolinara, staff from Classical Movements have directed him and his friends to be quiet his own property on multiple occasions.

“On several occasions, someone from Classical Movements held up a sign while I was sitting in my backyard with a few friends asking us to keep our voices down,” Lamilinara said. “I cannot imagine anyone on Council appreciating being told to keep quiet when all they’re doing is having a conversation in their yard.”

David Fritz, who owns a property adjacent to Classical Movements, wrote a letter to council opposing the SUP that said it was not all about the music but rather the noise that would come with a gathering of 50 people.

In the letter, Fritz also expressed concern about how the concerts would impact local traffic, since there is a single parking space at the rear entrance to Classical Movements’ garden.

Most others who testified at the hearing, however, spoke in strong support of the concerts and said the music and performances were a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Tanya Lervik, a resident, emphatically endorsed the concerts.

“I attended several of the concerts. It makes me emotional because I live alone, my family is on the other side of the country, and this is one of the few bright spots in COVID,” Lervik said.

William Cromley, another resident who has lived on the same block as Classical Movements for the past 25 years, testified in favor of the concerts.

Cromley said that he believed that dealing with noise was just a fact of life for people who live in a city, but not all noises are created equal.

“Every day, we hear trains and planes and trash trucks and leaf blowers and air conditioners and in the case of [construction at senior living facility] Sunrise on this block, [it’s] been almost a year of very loud noise every day, which we … bear, and it’s part of living in a city,” Cromley said. “Occasionally, we hear more joyful nois-es. We hear church bells; we hear outdoor concerts from city sites.”

James Ross, the music director of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, argued Classical Movements’ concerts also benefit the musicians who have seen their industry ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last March, most arts organizations cancelled their entire schedules. Artists across the board abruptly lost all their work and in-come. Ninety percent of classical musicians are now unemployed,” Ross said.

During the discussion, every member of council spoke in favor of allowing Classical Movements to host outdoor concerts.

“I think they’re actively upholding an industry that has been decimated by the pandemic in a way that other industries haven’t,” Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said. “That being said, I do think there are some amendments we need to make [this], including the ones that staff has adjusted and possibly others.”

During the discussion, several council members expressed concern about the frequency and duration of the concerts, as well as how the concerts would impact residents living in the area.

Councilor Canek Aguirre suggested limiting the number of hours for performing and tuning instruments to four hours per day.

Councilor John Chapman said that he was hesitant about giving permanent approval to the SUP and suggested that an amendment be made to limit the approval to one year.

“I would be a little bit nervous about making this a permanent SUP because I think this is not necessarily their business model … and [they’re] probably going to have some kinds of drastic changes for that block over time,” Chapman said.

Jackson put forward a motion to approve the SUP which was seconded by Chapman. The motion passed 7-0.