Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Has Society Garden gotten too big for its Ingleside neighbors?

Owners seek approval for 10 times the permitted patrons after P&Z discovers beer garden and outdoor stage are out of compliance
Liz Fabian
The Society Garden was originally permitted for 50 patrons in 2017, but now regularly exceeds that with an expanded outdoor stage and stadium seating.

Growing pains could jeopardize the future of the Society Garden, whose owners have about a month to devise ways to bring the bar’s outdoor venue back into zoning compliance in Ingleside Village.

After an anonymous noise complaint in November, Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning realized the beer and wine garden with its expanded outdoor stage and new stadium seating is in violation of its 2017 original permit for 2367 Ingleside Ave.

Monday, Society Garden owners Brad and Meagan Evans went before P&Z in hopes of reaching a compromise to legally allow the existing expansion of the popular, family-friendly gathering spot that sometimes draws folks by the hundreds.

When the venue opened on the 1.23-acre property more than six years ago, they were permitted for a 10 p.m. closing time and outside seating of up to 50 patrons for a monthly concert series on a 12 ft. by 12 ft. stage. The venue has been steadily growing ever since.

“It’s a great problem to have,” P&Z Commissioner Josh Rogers said of the present dilemma. “They’ve just become so much more successful than they thought. I just don’t think the site works.”

Brad Evans said they now average 150 to 200 people on most Fridays and Saturdays, but the website shows a capacity for 500 and midnight closing time Wednesday to Saturday, P&Z staff noted.

“I will plead ignorance because we didn’t realize we needed to get approval for growth,” Evans told P&Z commissioners. “I just believe we met the demand that our neighborhood gave to us. They wanted to be there, and we grew the best we knew how.”

While Rogers credited the Evanses on their success in creating a “real touchstone for Macon,” he admitted P&Z never would have approved a plan for a 500-person capacity amphitheater in the middle of predominantly residential neighborhoods.

Rogers suggested the owners hire sound and light engineers to minimize the effects on neighbors, but that won’t solve all the compliance problems.

To be zoned for 500 people, the business needs 102 parking spaces, but the Evans did not have on hand documentation of their lease for nighttime spaces around the building that houses Karsten and Denson Hardware, If It’s Paper and Joe D’s restaurant.

Parking problems and noise

Society Garden patrons are parking in front of other businesses along Ingleside Village and down the dead end street of Parker Avenue, which is a problem for Patricia Denmark’s elderly relatives who live on the street.

Her 93-year-old mother “enjoys the music,” but Denmark worries about emergency access should her mother need an ambulance when the street is blocked by cars.

“This is disrespectful to begin with. That was a residential street,” Denmark told P&Z. “If you’re going to let them stay there, make them stay out of the street.”

Brad Evans said they posted signs designating Society Garden parking areas and questioned whether it was his responsibility to police where customers park.

“If it is… I’ll make it my job to patrol the streets and make sure where everybody is parking,” he said.

P&Z Commissioner Gary Bechtel suggested Evans build better relationships with the Ingleside Village business community.

Ingleside area neighbor Christine Guard plays a phone recording of the sound of a Society Garden concert during the Jan. 22 P&Z hearing.

Neighbor Christine Guard, who lives two blocks away, said most of the neighborhood residents enjoy Society Garden, but she has a problem with the noise.

“The issue has become the stage and the loudness of the music which has significantly increased especially over the last 12 to 24 months,” said Guard, who clarified that she was not the anonymous complaint that launched P&Z’s inspection.

Guard’s historic home windows rattle during concerts and she can hear music from inside the house, she said. The loud music is incompatible with the neighborhood, she said, and referenced recent P&Z battles involving Vineville neighbors and the Allman Brothers Big House Museum expansion and a defunct proposal to turn a historic estate into a social club.

Meagan Evans noted that they check sound levels at each concert and readings have never been above 90 decibels, which is consistent with the sound of a lawnmower.

She also noted it is rare that they will draw 500 people for a concert, but it does happen a few times a year, she said. The Evanses say security is on hand.

“We take great pride in knowing we’ve had one fight in our venue in eight years, and honestly one noise complaint in eight years, and we bring lots of people here,” Meagan Evans said.

Gene Dunwody Jr. spoke in support of allowing Society Garden to continue operating.

“It’s part of our city growing and it’s y’alls’ job to try to manage it,” Dunwody told the commissioners. “I just hope there’s some sort of compromise for Brad and Meagan and for this city to be able to thrive.”

Dunwody mentioned there are ways to divert sound that could satisfy neighbors. The buffer of trees that once shielded the rear of the property from Parker Avenue residences in 2017 is also gone.

Rogers said he can’t imagine what it’s like to live in those houses directly across the street from the outdoor stage and stadium seating.

During P&Z’s administrative meeting, commissioners emphasized the importance of people seeking staff’s guidance before renovating or expanding to make sure plans are in compliance before property owners invest more money.

Rogers noted that Society Garden’s compliance issues need further study. The Commission voted to defer the item for about a month and urged the Evanses to come back with proposals on Feb. 19.

“You’re the one making money, so you’ve got to come up with solutions,” Rogers said.

P&Z’s other decisions

  • 128 Lamar St. — On Jan. 16, the Design Review Board denied the application for vinyl windows and P&Z upheld that decision. Historic property owner Khurram Shahbaz purchased the vinyl windows before learning that a Certificate of Appropriateness is required for projects in a Historic Preservation District and that vinyl is not an acceptable material under the guidelines that govern the neighborhood. He may install the windows in the rear of the house, which cannot be seen from the street.
  • 386 Calloway Drive — Design approval granted for new pool and six-foot wooden privacy fence.
  • 910 Tattnall St. — Exterior modifications approved on a house built in 1900. The owner plans to repair rotten and damaged siding and sashes, add gutters and paint the exterior.
  • 431 Pine St. — Certificate of Appropriateness granted for a wooden privacy fence to divide the lot from the alley way. The application includes a 30-foot rolling gate for access.
  • 1713 Lawton Ave. — Permission granted to install a 6-foot black vinyl chain link fence on the right side and along the back of the property.
  • 1311 Ross St. — Fence design approved for a three-foot, pointed picket fence and Certificate of Appropriateness granted for new accessory building and larger house numbers to be installed on a patio post.
  • 605 Arlintgon Place – Design modifications approved for previously approved construction materials.
  • 7640 Lower Thomaston Road — The application for a variance for a home addition was deferred until Feb. 5.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-957-2829.

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