By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
With a plan to create an Entertainment (E-1) District for a new music venue in Cullman moving forward, residents near the proposed Alabama Highway 157 site have mounted a campaign to halt the project.
More than 45 residents have signed a petition opposing a request to rezone 10 acres near Interstate 65, behind the Waffle House restaurant, to an E-1 District, which has less-restrictive alcohol regulations.
Local entrepreneur Bethany Seidel hopes to build a join-use, outdoor and indoor music venue on the site that could seat approximately 1,500 people for concerts and events. The facility would feature an indoor and outdoor stage, and host a handful of concerts, community events and fundraisers each month.
Click here for previous story on the proposed E-1 District.
The facility would also feature a full bar, tap room and brewery, which is why the E-1 designation is required. The city’s current alcohol ordinance only allows for restaurants to serve alcohol on-premises, unless the business is within an Entertainment District.
But, some residents who live near the proposed venue believe it is not the best location for a music hall. Despite some protestations, the request has received a favorable recommendation from the board and is now headed to the Cullman city council for review. The council could set a public hearing date for the zoning request at a Monday night meeting.
If approved, the request would only rezone the property to E-1. Seidel would still have to go through the proper channels to have her site plan and proposal approved before work could actually begin.
Leon Bentley, who lives on County Road 1163 near the affected lot, said he worries the location is too close to residential neighborhoods to host a music venue. He said an event with more than 1,000 people could also wreak havoc on the traffic flow feeding into Hwy. 157.
“We’re not against entertainment, but this is just too close to residential areas and we feel like with an outdoor theater, one of the biggest problems during summer would be noise,” he said. “I’d anticipate my windows rattling, and also be very concerned about traffic. It’s already very congested trying to get out at the restaurants there, so just imagine how bad this would be. I fear it would overburden the area with traffic and decrease our property values.”
Chris Van Dyke, director of the Cullman Area Mental Health Authority, said his agency is formally opposed to the rezoning for myriad reasons. Most notably: He fears it would open the door for a bar to open across the street from the mental health office, which provides counseling for those facing substance and alcohol abuse.
“We’re worried about the influence it might have on what we’re trying to do here. Some of our adult clients have impulse control problems or decision-making issues, and if people could just leave and walk across the street to a bar that could be a problem,” Van Dyke said. “It’s just a bad location. We’re not opposed to entertainment districts, or a business like this, but the location isn’t a good one. The rezoning would allow for bars or nightclubs at some point on that property, and that’s the problem we have with it.”
When asked about the concerns being floated by community members, Seidel said she would never to anything to the detriment of the community, adding she plans to address every concern once a public hearing date is set.
“There were legitimate concerns raised by some citizens about noise and traffic, but I’m involving experts and sound engineers to address these concerns as we move forward,” she said. “I’ll be compliant with noise and code regulations mandated by city ordinances, and I’m even in full support of having a traffic report done in the location. I live in this community, and I’m sensitive to all these concerns, but this really is a well-thought-out project, and everyone who needs to be involved to make it work will be involved.”
Some opponents have expressed concerns the venue could attract several thousand people and create a logjam in the area, though Seidel reiterated she is only planning for a venue to hold a maximum of 2,000 people, though city regulations and fire codes could always bring that number down further.
“We’ll obviously be taking different things into consideration for size and square footage, and that will ultimately determine the capacity. While an outdoor stage to hold 1,500 is the goal, city regulations will ultimately decide that, and we’ll absolutely abide by that.”
Seidel said she hopes to attract talented country, bluegrass, rock and indie acts to Cullman, as well as use the facility to host local fundraisers and events.
“My ultimate goal is to bring in top musicians regionally and locally,” she said. “The first priority will be to cater to locals, and second is bringing in people from outside the city to enjoy these performances. We’ll also utilize the facility for charities and fundraisers, because that is something very important to me.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.