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Neighbors protest noisy Kirkland bar
It’s 11:15 on a recent Saturday night and a bachelor celebrating his final nights of eligibility roars into a microphone with four friends at the Suede Sports Bar and Grill in the Kingsgate neighborhood.
“Hot as a fever, rattling bones,
“I could just taste it, taste it,
“You, your sex is on fire,” the group chants as they sing along to Kings of Leon’s lyrics to “Sex on Fire” that bounce across a TV screen.
About 60 patrons that pack the bar clap and hoot before the same group breaks out into another song, “Boondocks” by Little Big Town.
At 11:45 p.m. the DJ announces he will spin some dance music, which blasts as he turns the bass up and a handful of 20-somethings take to the dance floor.
For many, Suede bar is a local hangout and a celebratory place. But for Clifford Walter and a group of neighbors at the nearby Olympic Village Condos, the bar is a noise nuisance.
“For months now we who live in the area have suffered an intruder in our community,” said Walter of the Suede Sports Bar and Grill that opened in January at 14417 124th Ave. N.E. in Kirkland’s annexation area. The bar, formerly called Tony's Bar & Grill, relocated just minutes from its previous location. “This joint has been a constant source of loud music and parking lot noise, often punctuated with a liberal dose of profanities every Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until 2 a.m.”
Since the start of summer, Walter has tried to drown out the bar noise that seeps in his open bedroom window with an air conditioner. His wife, Muriel Albert, wears a pair of earplugs to bed.
The couple, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, works at Apak Batteries and say the constant sleep disturbances have affected their work.
“The batteries get heavy, so when I get home I want to go to bed, but we can’t until after 2 a.m.,” said Walter, 64. “Saturday comes along and we still can’t get any rest. It affects everything you do.”
Linda Trelstad, who has lived in the Kingsgate neighborhood for 17 years with husband, Jim, says the worst part of the bar noise is the DJ’s amplified voice.
“It’s kind of like being at a football game,” said Trelstad, 63. “He gets the crowd cheering.”
On some nights, she said the noise is so loud that it gets the dogs barking at a veterinary clinic that sits between the bar and the condos. The recovering dogs “start barking incessantly and my dog starts to growl,” said Trelstad. “So it’s a circus for us.”
The clinic owner did not return several calls from the Reporter.
On a recent Thursday morning, Michael Woo heard a commotion in the parking lot at the bar and video recorded a verbal fight that broke out between several females at 12:30 a.m. The video, taken after the bar closed, shows about nine people yelling expletives back and forth for about 10 minutes.
On another occasion, he also used a compact video to record what the noise sounds like from his residence.
Woo’s wife, Deanna, called the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), but they never got a response, he said.
In fact, several neighbors have called the police on numerous occasions, but say the department has not enforced King County’s noise ordinance.
According to the ordinance, public disturbance noise includes the use of a device capable of producing amplified sound that “can be clearly heard or felt at 75 feet or more from the source of sound, when the sound is received in a residential district.”
Walter, who refers to the King County Sheriff’s Office as a “toothless tiger,” gave up on calling the police after four months of no response.
However, KCSO officials believe bar owner is in compliance with the ordinance.
Bar in compliance
KCSO spokesperson Srgt. John Urquhart said several deputies, including the precinct captain, have been involved in the noise investigation.
While there has been some noise “escaping” from the bar on occasion, Urquhart said “there have been no violations of the King County noise ordinance, as far as we can tell.”
He added Helo “has cooperated with us in good faith and is trying to mitigate any noise issues with his neighbor.”
“I respect the fact the neighbors are upset about the noise, but at the same time, we did not just ignore the whole thing,” said bar owner Tony Helo, who hired an independent third party to conduct a sound study at his property. “It cost us a lot of money to get those results.”
Brian Palidar, principal architect with Grouparchitect, visited both the bar and condo property on three separate occasions in April to observe noise levels. He said he did not notice any particular “smoking gun” that would immediately enable Suede to address the noise concerns.
Palidar did, however, observe that the DJ is “clearly and loudly” heard above background music and noise levels remain “high enough to still be heard and/or felt by neighbors at excessive levels.”
Based on his observations, he recommended that Helo reduce interior noise levels to less than 95 decibels and take smaller measures to help absorb noise.
Helo said based on the sound study results, he has taken every measure financially possible. He took some speakers out of the bar and purchased a hand held meter for the bartender to monitor noise levels.
“We got on it right away – we did everything in the book,” said Helo. “We worked hard, we did not ignore their complaints, we did everything in our power and they're still not happy. They just don't want a bar there in that area.”
However, Walter says the sound study was just a “smoke screen” since he didn’t soundproof his building and the noise continues.
Woo said the neighbors have an issue with the noise study as Helo hired Palidar. Woo is concerned the study could be biased.
"How random was the day (of the noise study)?" said Woo. "It's highly suspicious that the noise level was okay when he came out."
But Palidar says on one of the nights he went to Suede, it was "absolutely packed. There is no way, shape or form the DJ was told to keep things under wrap," said Palidar.
He added there's a "problem" with the King County's noise ordinance because it is subjective.
"There's no numeric decibel level, there's no way to objectively say, 'yes, someone is in violation or not,'" said Palidar.
Still, he says the neighbors are not objective either.
"The people who have complained are mostly long-time residents," he noted. "Zoning has changed and just because they were there first doesn't mean that someone can't use their property for their use. At the end of the day, people rarely remain ojective, from what I have found."
Finding a solution
Pam Casey, who has lived at the condos for 20 years, says because the neighbors have called the King County Sheriff's Office so much, the police "seem to ignore us."
"I've called dozens of times and it has gotten to the point where it's not even worth it," said Casey.
She has tried to address the issue as president of the Olympic Village Homeowner's Association, but says it's not feasible. There are 32 units in the complex, of which only eight or so units are impacted.
The condos, which were built in 1979, are also expensive to maintain.
"When you have owners that have lived here a long time and are on fixed incomes, you can only charge people so much money for maintenance fees," said Casey, adding that taking legal action against Suede would be an expensive process and a cost the homeowner's association wouldn't be able to charge the unaffected homeowners.
So for now, the burden falls on a handful of residents.
And those residents say they are done dealing with the police.
"I know there's a lot of politics involved and they (the police) act like their hands are tied behind their backs, but this bar has drastically deteriorated our neighborhood," said Woo.
Trelstad said there isn't enough police coverage in these "unannexed pockets" like Kingsgate.
Other neighbors are hopeful that the Kirkland police will turn things around, once the Kingsgate neighborhood is incorporated into the City of Kirkland in 2011.
Walter has contacted state representatives Roger Goodman and Larry Springer, who have both expressed concern with the situation.
Between May-August, the Kirkland Police Department had 220 disturbance calls associated with noise, according to Jonathan Ishmeal, neighborhood resource officer.
Kirkland Srgt. Robert Saloum says the KPD has dealt with similar noise situations on several occasions.
"Most of the business owners are trying to comply and operate a business, so it's a give and take," said Saloum, noting that the city's noise ordinance is similar to the county's in that determination of a noise violation comes down to the responding officer's discretion.
The neighbors, who say Helo turned them down for a meeting, still hope to sit down with him to try and work things out.
"We would love to invite them over to talk to them (the neighbors)," said Helo. "I'd really like to put it to rest. We're not enemies and we don't want people to be mad at us. We're just trying to survive."