Jason Vicks

A Charlotte restaurant owner was arrested Saturday night during a CIAA-related party at his uptown establishment, charged with violating the city’s new noise ordinance.

Jason Vicks, owner of Kalu Asian Kitchen, was led away in handcuffs, his lawyer, Ken Harris, told Qcitymetro.com. Mecklenburg jail records show that Vicks was charged with a misdemeanor. Bond was set at $1,200.

Vicks, 38, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Harris, meanwhile, questioned the motives behind his client’s arrest.

“We are very concerned that (this new ordinance) is being executed…against one of the few African American business owners in downtown Charlotte,” he said. “What about the other businesses and venues that generate outside noise in uptown Charlotte, especially during the CIAA? Why weren’t they cited?”

Harris noted in particular that police, after arresting Vicks, allowed the party to continue unabated.

“They didn’t do anything about mitigating the noise,” he said, “but they took the owner off to jail.”

A history of complaints

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department spokesman Robert Fey said the official arrest report had not been completed Monday afternoon, but he said noise complaints against Vicks’ restaurant date back to fall 2011.

“This arrest was made after repeated warnings, dialogue and discussion dating back to October,” he said. “There were also multiple warnings over the CIAA weekend.”

Kalu, voted one of “Esquire” magazine’s best new restaurants of 2010, is located on the ground floor of Courtside tower – a condominium building on East Sixth Street – where a number of residents have voiced concerns about the dinner-only restaurant playing music late at night.

Last month, the Charlotte Business Journal reported that some tenants had complained that the disturbance has become unbearable and is ruining their neighborhood.

Harris labeled those complaints suspect.

“If you live in downtown Charlotte, then sound is something that you have to anticipate…,” he said. “There are a lot of venues that generate noise in the arena area, and I think what’s happening now is you have got the sensitivities of a few people dominating the right of a person to conduct a legal business.”

Vicks was not the first person arrested under the city’s new policy restricting noise.

In August 2011, the Rev. Phillip “Flip” Benham, a preacher convicted earlier that year of stalking a doctor who performs abortions, was charged with violating Charlotte’s noise ordinance during a public demonstration outside of a gay pride festival.

The Charlotte Observer reported that Benham, who was using a speaker, was arrested after officers warned him that he was preaching too loudly outside the boundaries of the Pride Charlotte Festival.

Unanimous approval

After much debate and public input, Charlotte City Council voted unanimously to pass the new ordinance in May 2011. Some of the city’s restaurant and nightclub owners had expressed concern that the new limits on noise would be bad for businesses that offer live music.

City officials decided to update the 25-year-old ordinance after residents in the Elizabeth neighborhood complained about music from bars.

Download a (.pdf) copy of the city’s noise ordinance

For commercial establishments, the new, nine-page ordinance caps outdoor music, or music aimed out of doors, at 85 decibels on Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. The noise must drop to 60 decibels from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

The ordinance also restricts the level of sound, emanating from amplification equipment, that is allowed to flow into nearby homes, apartments or hotels.

As required by law, Harris said, police have used a decibel-reading device to measure the noise levels coming from Kalu, but the lawyer said that as of Monday he had not received the results of those tests. Harris also noted that the ordinance allows for a business to be deemed a “Chronic Noise Producer” without ever exceeding the decibel limits.

Harris questions why his client was singled out, particularly since his event was held inside and the bulk of the new ordinance focuses on outside amplified noise.

Since last summer, Kalu has received at least two citations for noise disturbances. Prior to Saturday’s arrest, city officials had notified Vicks that his restaurant had been deemed a “chronic noise producer.” Harris said the two sides had been working on a plan to address concerns.

“We had an ongoing dialogue with the city,” Harris said. “We are willing to do everything in our power to make sure that we were compliant and working with the residents to make sure that this thing worked out. We had absolutely no idea that they would be coming out to arrest him.”

Harris said he believes his client’s arrest sheds a negative light on Charlotte.

“Charlotte has always been seen as being focused on fostering and supporting all business, especially African American businesses,” he said. “And this just doesn’t look right, and it is concerning.”
Editor’s Note: The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.

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