Condo owners in a Bethesda building say they’ve had enough of late-night dance music and unruly patrons at The Parva on Woodmont Avenue.
The owner of the restaurant says those condo owners are harassing him to the point of trying to shut down his business.
With Montgomery County looking for ways to increase its nighttime economy and attract a younger demographic to its downtowns, the years-long conflict between residents of Fairmont Plaza and the restaurant, bar and lounge across the street shows not everybody is on board.
“Our residents choose to live in downtown Bethesda because of the different options for dining and entertainment. We don’t want to not have those options, but this problem is that the bar just plays music at such a loud level,” said Fairmont Plaza resident Aaron Davis. “We’re taxpayers and citizens. We just want to be able to have the peaceful enjoyment of our homes.
“We go to work in the morning after not being able to sleep because the bass is coming through the wall,” Davis said. “That’s a huge problem for us. It really diminishes our quality of life.”
Issues between residents at the building and the business — at 7904 Woodmont Ave. — actually go back to before Juan Carlos Balcazar and his brother Edwin opened The Parva in July 2011.
Before the property was home to The Parva, a South American-style restaurant with a lounge and dancing area upstairs, it was home to Rarely Legal Grille. Before that, a restaurant and dance spot called South Beach Cafe leased the property.
When The Parva goes before the county’s Board of License Commissioners to renew its alcohol license on May 15, the residents of Fairmont Plaza plan to present a petition they’ve circulated that would allow them the chance to speak. It’s possible they will challenge the renewal of the restaurant’s license.
“They’re trying to harass me. They’re trying to shut me down,” Balcazar said. “It’s one of the worst cases I’ve seen. They don’t have any proof and we don’t have any citations for any alcohol violations. We’re the cleanest business in the area.”
At a meeting in February with county planners, a few residents in the 114-unit building said there was “universal opposition to the County Executive’s Nighttime Bethesda proposal, if it means extending bar hours and changing the revenue ratio.”
The proposal they referred to was actually a list of recommendations for improving nightlife from a county-formed task force of residents, business representatives and government officials. One of the recommendations was to move restaurant closing times one hour later to match neighboring jurisdictions. State lawmakers from the county successfully pushed that effort in this year’s General Assembly.
Throughout the Task Force’s work, county officials said they had anticipated more pushback on issues such as closing times and the food-to-alcohol ratio in restaurants.
Last year, Councilmember Hans Riemer released a survey in which 74 percent of 1,831 respondents said they identified more with the idea that the county needs to improve its nightlife options to attract younger residents. The competing statement, that the county should work to maintain its suburban character, garnered the support of 26 percent of respondents.
The group of residents at Fairmont Plaza has met with police and has another meeting with the county next week. It’s the county’s Department of Environmental Protection that enforces the county’s noise ordinance.
South Beach Cafe was the subject of three “Business Related Amplified Music Complaints” in downtown Bethesda since 2000, according to a list of the complaints provided in March by Environmental Protection.
Those complaints came in March 2002, November 2003 and April 2006. The Parva has never been the subject of a complaint in that category, according to the county.
“The police don’t really enforce the noise issue and the people at [Environmental Protection] go home at 5 p.m.,” Davis said.
And residents say the problem isn’t confined to high decibel levels.
“The people that come to Parva, they are not well-behaved. We’ve seen people acting really badly, like urinating in public — just drunk and disorderly behavior,” Davis said.
Balcazar was well aware of that complaint and called it “ridiculous.”
The Parva is in an area of Woodmont Triangle with a few bars and restaurants, including the now-shuttered BlackFinn American Saloon that was known as a late-night hotspot.
“Apparently, they say people are coming form all over the area and are on the streets and all that,” Balcazar said. “It’s nothing that we can control. We’re right in the middle of a lot of places. People would walk from BlackFinn into our area. There’s nothing that we can really do.”
Davis said the residents of Fairmont Plaza will have a more complete picture of exactly what type of resolution is possible after the Board of License Commissioners hearing on May 15.
“We tried to get them to change and they have no motivation to change,” Davis said. “Our hope is that we can get some kind of change in the next few weeks. People here have been talking to the restaurants there for five years about this. Nothing has happened.”