Council’s decision was applauded by over 50 community members who barnstormed the meeting to support O’Brien’s and its proprietor, Jen Greenholt.
Liquor license renewals for existing businesses are generally a routine matter handled as part of council’s consent agenda. Rarely do they even merit discussion. In deference to the controversy surrounding the O’Brien’s liquor license renewal, however, the item was shifted to the evening’s action items, where it could be more broadly discussed.
O’Brien’s Pub is located in the C-1 Commercial district in downtown Ouray, and has recently started regularly offering live music from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday nights as part of its business plan. Come June, the pub will also be hosting late-night live music on Thursday evenings, as it becomes a venue for encore performances by the musicians featured at the Mountain Air Music Series.
Neighbor Paul Sunderland resides immediately adjacent to the pub in the recently renovated Story Block building, which contains six residential condominiums on the second floor. The Sunderlands live in one of the units. Another is privately owned, and the remaining four are currently being utilized as short-term and long-term rentals.
Sunderland, an attorney and the building’s developer, lodged a complaint with the city against O’Brien’s in April on behalf of himself and other members of the Story Block Condominium Association, alleging that O'Brien's live music violates the city’s noise ordinance which provides that unreasonable noise is a nuisance and therefore prohibited.
“It is not bar noise to which we object; it is the noise from having a new live music venue immediately next door to us which refuses to comply with the City's noise ordinance,” he stated in his complaint. “We feel that we must ask the City Administration to get involved to resolve the problem, as the Town of Telluride has recently done when faced with a similar issue.”
In his comments at Monday’s meeting, Sunderland cited case law as well as the state liquor code in an effort to persuade council that the noise emanating from O’Brien’s due to its late-night live music should be considered disorderly conduct. He asserted that council should condition O’Brien’s liquor license renewal on its compliance “with the requirement that they not disturb their neighbors late at night” and called for a public hearing “to take evidence on the matter.”
In support of her application, Greenholt pointed out that she has received no ordinance violations or citations during her tenure at the pub, and said that Sunderland’s request to prohibit her from hosting live bands would have “an obvious negative effect” on her business.
She also asserted that if someone chooses to develop residential homes in a commercially zoned area, they should be willing to put up with occasional noise. “I hope council can appreciate the passion this town has for live music,” she said.
Her comments were greeted with applause from her supporters in the audience, many of whom also spoke out on her behalf.
O’Brien’s server and bartender Amy Winterrowd said that live music brings revenue to the city and supports local businesses. “We have quite a following going on and I’d like to see it continue,” she said.
Kristine Kersen, owner of Apteka Liquors and Ouray Convenience Store, stated that the live music venue is particularly important to the younger set of Ouray visitors who flock to the area in the winter to enjoy the Ouray Ice Park. She also warned that banning live music from O’Brien’s would set a dangerous precedent. “If you stop one business from having live music you’d have to look at every other venue in town,” she said. “The zoning is commercial and to me that means you ought to be allowed to have live music.”
Craig Kaminski warned council that allowing a public hearing on the matter would be going down a “potential slippery slope” and added that the fact there have only been 12 complaints in 2.5 years about noise at O’Brien’s “is pretty darn good” and “representative of a pretty respectable business.”
Ethan Funk too warned against holding a hearing. “It will open a very big can of worms,” he said. Funk pointed out that he also lives in a C1 zone, directly across Sixth Avenue from the Ouray Community Center. “I have never complained about noise coming out of Community Center,” he said. “If we start looking at the noise ordinance it will have a ripple effect on other venues as well.”
Bill Leo, the proprietor of Ouray Mountain Sports and Simba Suites next door to O’Brien’s, said that none of his guests have ever complained about the live music. “The music is being kept at reasonable levels,” he said.
“Is the nuisance O’Brien’s, or the individual who is pushing for this hearing?” another supporter asked, inspiring a spontaneous burst of applause from the audience.
Attorney Michael Hockersmith, representing Greenholt, concluded the comments with his statement in support of his client: “You have a person here who is proactive, has a good relationship with the Police Department, and is a prime example of the kind of person who should be holding a liquor license in Ouray. Under the circumstances I would urge this council to approve the renewal with no further conditions.”
Councilman Gary Hansen moved to approve the liquor license renewal without any conditions. Richard Kersen seconded. The motion passed unanimously. Councilman John Ferguson was absent from the meeting and Councilman Michael Underwood had to recuse himself from discussion because of a conflict of interest.
Council’s action followed the recommendations of City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli and City Attorney Kathryn Sellars.