‘Plainly audible’ noise ordinance pushes 37 Main out of Johns Creek

The sign comes down at 37 Main ( Chantelle Knuycky photo)

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The sign comes down at 37 Main ( Chantelle Knuycky photo)

Things are, once again, quiet in the Medlock Bridge neighborhood of Johns Creek. After months of dispute, the city has reclaimed its title of "premier bedroom community," albeit at the expense of rock and roll.

On July 25, the Johns Creek City Council approved an amendment to the nuisance ordinance that prohibits "plainly audible" amplified sound produced by a business from encroaching on residential property. 37 Main Rock and Roll Café – the restaurant and concert venue at the center of the controversy – closed its doors for good just two days later.

“We felt our hand was forced by the vote,” said 37 Main Johns Creek’s former general manager Chantelle Knuycky. Knuycky has since gone back to bartending at the venue’s Buford location. “It became almost the city of Johns Creek against 37 Main and I’m not exactly sure why or what happened that made it that way, but all of the sudden it felt like it became very personal.”

The 17,000 sq. foot venue hosted live acts Thursday-Saturday, often until midnight or 2 a.m. The business’ neighbors in the Medlock Bridge subdivision complained of the noise, which an acoustical consultant attributed to a thin roof, at least 39 times in the venue’s 2-year tenure. 37 Main left Johns Creek with six nuisance violations (under the previous ordinance), several thousand dollars in fines and a threat on their liquor license.

Wrong place, wrong time

The behemoth space at the end of the strip center that once was 37 Main sits vacant, but a few sheets of printer paper taped on the door explain the saga that unfolded there.

“We soon realized that it was not about the volume/sound, but it was about the neighbors not wanting our business to be in front of their neighborhood,” reads the letter, attributed to the 37 Main’s owners, Joe and David White. “They felt we ‘lowered their property value’ because we were a restaurant/bar/venue in front of their neighborhood. So it became clear that the city was not going to fight fair with this situation.”

But in their office cattycorner from the stripped down 37 Main and its scathing letter, the Johns Creek Chamber of Commerce said the problem wasn’t with the Whites’ business model or a “corrupt” city government. Chamber leaders say the logistics of the primarily residential city doomed the venue from the start.

“We would love to have more venues of entertainment, but locating them might be a little more difficult considering the way the city’s laid out,” said John Bemont, the President of the Chamber of Commerce. “You have to be careful, people have lived quietly in their homes and subdivisions for years and now a city is kind of building up around them.”

The ordinance only applies to noise that carries into residential areas, so had 37 Main been sandwiched between commercial zones, they might have been fine. The problem is, large swaths of commercial property are few and far between in Johns Creek.

“I think if you had to put it in perspective, it was probably the wrong venue in the wrong location,” said Dan Callahan, the director of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as a member of the citizen steering committee tasked with writing the ordinance.

Callahan, along with the rest of the business community, had hoped to write specific decibel guidelines in the ordinance, but honestly doesn’t see the decision affecting any other businesses in Johns Creek.

“This is not an ongoing issue here,” Callahan said. “There’s not really a noise problem and there’s not really a business-residential relationship problem here in the city of Johns Creek. This was just an unfortunate case where you had a business that makes loud music very close to a residential community. And I don’t know that the city or anybody could have anticipated this when they approved everything.”

1.5 Stars

Though 37 Main’s music affected only a small subsect of Johns Creek residents, the business’ supporters and critics are deeply entrenched in their opinions. Following its closure, 37 Main’s former general manager Knuycky said they’re encouraging the rock and roll cafe’s supporters to “speak their mind through the election.”

Mayor Mike Bodker said his political capital played no role in his decision to defend the longtime residents who were affected by the noise. He said he heard from residents who had lived there decades before the venue opened in 2014, including a cancer patient who couldn’t sleep because of the noise and students whose grades fell because they couldn’t study.

“How do you look the other way on that? Do I do it simply because 1,000 rabid fans of 37 Main – of which I was one of them! – want me to because otherwise I’m going to close down their favorite watering hole?” Bodker said. “We didn’t close 37 Main; they chose to close.”

But reaction on the city's Facebook page tells a different story. Those "rabid fans" have decided to express their dismay with the nuisance ordinance and 37 Main's departure by bombarding the City of Johns Creek, Georgia page with negative reviews. The page now has nearly 200 reviews, with an average rating of 1.5 stars.

Moving on

Knuycky estimates 50 people are unemployed in the wake of 37 Main’s closure. The Buford location has seen an upswing in popularity in recent weeks, but at less than half the size of the Johns Creek venue, it’s hardly making up for the loss.

They want to reopen a second cafe in the near future, but their approach is much more cautious this time around.

“We’re making sure that we’re not remotely near a residential area ever again,” Knuycky said. “We’re walking in with our eyes wide open.”