Why the music stopped at the Blackbird

10/17/2013

The cessation of live music at the coffee shop in downtown Inverness has generated both disappointment and a variety of rumors. 

The truth is those evening events, which came to the attention of the county Community Development Agency after another agency became concerned about stress to the septic system, were not authorized under the Blackbird’s use permit. 

In 2010, a year before they opened the café, then co-owners Jude Robinson and Carol Whitnah decided not to obtain a new use permit, which is a lengthy and expensive process. Instead, they sought an exemption to the original use permit for the space, which used to house a gift shop. The exemption was granted, and 200 square feet of the interior was allowed to become a coffee bar. 

At the time, Ms. Robinson told the Light she wanted the business to be “a relaxing place for people to come and be together and share what they are creating artistically, whether that be visual, musical, or literary.” 

But in late spring or early summer, county Environmental Health Services sent a complaint to the Community Development Agency. (No complaints came from residents.) “We don’t go looking for these things,” said Cristy Stanley, an enforcement officer for the C.D.A. “When we receive a complaint, from E.H.S. or whoever, we have to pursue it.”

The health department was concerned that the building’s septic system, which also serves a restaurant, the post office and the Light’s offices, would be taxed due to increased foot traffic that wasn’t accounted for when the exemption was approved. 

“Any additional waste water flows can jeopardize the system,” Armando Alegria, an environmental health specialist for the county, wrote in an email. 

Marshall Livingston, who owns the complex and monitors the septic use there, said the events had no discernible impact on the building’s wastewater, which is limited to 1,000 gallons a day. 

As the C.D.A. investigated the complaint, it realized the Blackbird was not authorized to hold night events.

In June, Ms. Stanley alerted Ms. Robinson and Mr. Livingston that the café was operating outside the bounds of the exemption. If the café would like to hold those events, it would need to either obtain an amendment to the use permit or get a new one—both of which would trigger the need for a coastal permit. 

County use permits are expensive—about $4,200. Ms. Stanley said the C.D.A. provides consultations, for about $300, during which they can discuss the possibility of obtaining an amendment instead, which is less expensive. The Blackbird, she said, could argue that the events would only take place once a month and would not burden the septic system. 

But either way, a coastal permit—which can run up to $7,200—would be both necessary and subject to public comment. The permit’s approval would hinge on things like parking availability, septic concerns, nearby residences and other potential impacts.