WILMINGTON — Seagate Bottle Shop has agreed to pause its outdoor live music for the month of November as it seeks to rectify multiple city zoning violations. However, under Wilmington’s new land development code, it’s unclear when and if the business will be able to host a concert under its twinkly string lights again.
That’s because the new code, which goes into effect Dec. 1, prohibits amplified sound within 1,000 feet of a residence. Some existing venues — like Wrightsville Beach Brewery and Greenfield Lake Amphitheater — will get to continue as legal nonconforming uses. Since Seagate Bottle Shop, located on Oleander Drive, is currently operating in violation of the code, it likely is ineligible to be grandfathered in.
Due to a pending appeal of the violations, under review by the board of adjustment, the city declined to comment on Seagate Bottle Shop’s operation. Owner Matt Dunn told Port City Daily it was his understanding from talks with zoning staff he would no longer be able to host performances.
“I hate seeing any small business, especially when it’s mine, you know, be kind of bulldozed,” Dunn said. “That’s how I feel and that might not be how everybody else sees it. But we’re not trying to do anything crazy here, and we’ve got great support from the community and people of Wilmington, and the number of local charities that we work with.”
In June, Seagate was handed down a notice of violations for operating as what the city considers a “nightclub” — a use not permitted under the current zoning of the property. Further, he had constructed a small triangle stage at the front corner of the property without a permit and was hosting events, according to documents from the city.
The site inspections were prompted by an “anonymous tip.” Zoning administrator Christopher Hatcher confirmed during a check-in at Seagate that an outdoor band was set up to perform on the unpermitted platform. Emails to Hatcher include screenshots of Seagate’s Instagram promoting musical events.
Seagate is in the process of remedying some of the violations with the city. Owner Dunn and his attorney Matt Nichols have been requesting continuances on the board of adjustment hearing to push consideration of the appeal to after Dec. 1, when the new land development code kicks in. The new code allows nightclubs in the community business district, which the majority of the Seagate property is in. As part of the most recent continuance request, the parties made a deal to pause outdoor music in November.
To the right of the Seagate building, where the stage is built, the property is zoned as office and institutional, which does not permit nightclubs under the current or revised development code. Dunn believes they should be able to rezone the rest of the property to community business without hurdles and then be in compliance.
“The violations that I have after 12/1 will no longer be violations,” Dunn explained. “But they were going to continue to pursue and persist on those violations unless I agreed to not have live music outside for the calendar month of November.
“And in their mind, I’m not going to be allowed to ever have live music here again beyond the calendar month of October because of the new code.”
Since the new code adds bars and nightclubs to the list of allowable uses in community business and several other new zoning districts, it also includes a new prohibition on outdoor amplified music for those businesses (plus, breweries and restaurants) that are within 1,000 feet of single-dwelling residential zoning.
“These areas tend to be more proximate to residential than some of the other zones in which bars and nightclubs were allowed,” Kathryn Thurston, zoning administrator with the city, wrote in an email. “To help mitigate the potential impact of these uses with any existing nearby residential uses, the city established some separation standards for outdoor activity.”
Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park will not be impacted by the change because it is located in the commercial business district — one of the few commercial zones where the amplified sound prohibition will not apply. The city’s current noise ordinance, updated in 2019, also exempts city-owned venues, such as Greenfield Lake and Riverfront Park.
City zoning will oversee the amplified sound violations, while the Wilmington Police Department will continue to enforce noise violations. Businesses out of compliance with the land development code are issued a notice of violation and have 30 days to appeal or make corrections before the city begins issuing citations. Those tickets start at $100, and each subsequent violation is $200 per day.
In a joint meeting with the city council and planning commission to discuss the amplified sound changes in July, Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes said sound has been one of the “biggest complaints” in the last several years. Multiple neighbors spoke out during the session against noise from nearby businesses infiltrating the Seagate community. One person specifically called out Wrightsville Beach Brewery; another referenced bars building outdoor seating and concert stages facing the neighborhood.
In 2019, as the city was penning amendments to its noise ordinance, Wrightsville Beach Brewery received a $250 ticket while throwing a fundraising concert for Surfers Healing, a nonprofit that teaches children with autism how to surf. At the time the owner said a neighbor had been calling in noise complaints for more than two years.
Most larger events at Seagate Bottle Shop, which is less than a mile away from Wrightsville Beach Brewery, also benefit nonprofits, Dunn said. Plus, the shows attract the community.
“Our interest in it is just helping local artists be heard and having folks around to enjoy them,” Dunn said.
Dunn is seeking after-the-fact permitting for his fenced-in deck and triangular platform, but those applications were placed on hold while the appeal process for the violations is underway, he said. The bottle shop owner acknowledges he didn’t do his due diligence ahead of building the deck, but believes the majority of the violations should be resolved once the nightclub is permitted in the majority of the property come December.
“Some of that was my ignorance to this entire system because this is my first try, attempt [at] this kind of business,” Dunn said.
As cooler weather arrives, Dunn said he plans to dial back events and only host musicians inside on a smaller scale. At first, he hoped to possibly join other businesses to protest the amplified sound prohibition because he doesn’t have “deep enough pockets to fight that fight for everybody.” But now it’s unclear how many businesses the change actually impacts, or how many are operating out of compliance and have yet to receive a notice of violation.
“I’m not gonna give up my fight to keep providing live entertainment to our community,” he said.