Oakdale Theatre, Wallingford Square Off Over Noise Complaints

Oakdale Theater's future in doubt as zoning issue remains unresolved

WALLINGFORD — Unable to resolve an impasse over noise complaints — and several other issues — with town officials, the Toyota Presents Oakdale Theatre took its case to the zoning board of appeals Wednesday evening in an effort to resolve a cease-and-desist order that could shut down the popular music venue.

But after more than three and a half hours of debate, the five-member Zoning Board of Appeals also failed to reach a consensus on the issue, leaving the order in effect and the Oakdale's fate still in doubt.

Three ZBA motions to either uphold the order or to reverse parts of it failed, and the board adjourned.

Before the hearing began before the five-member board, Town Planner Kacie Costello said the issue at stake wasn't whether music could be performed at the Oakdale, but whether the music being performed there falls under the theater's already approved zoning permit.

"The question tonight is, 'are they in violation of their condition of approval?'" Costello said.

Discussion of the issue continued late Wednesday night.

Joan Molloy, the attorney representing the Oakdale in its appeal of the cease-and-desist order, said that of the 285 abutting neighbors, only a handful have complained to the town and that the majority of the complaints come from neighbors who moved to the area recently.

Molloy also said some neighbors have complained about noise at the theater recently on days when no events where scheduled.

That observation drew applause and chuckles from many in the large crowd who turned out for the hearing, but ZBA Chairman Michael Glidden sternly told the audience that they would not be allowed to interject during the hearing.

"There will be no outbursts tonight. Period," Glidden said. "This is a hearing. I don't want to hear any clapping. Period."

Several police officers also stood in the back of the town hall auditorium during the hearing.

The clash between the town and the theater started in December of last year when officials issued a cease-and-desist order citing "the generation of noise," the scheduled of events in the original "dome" portion of the building that is supposed to function only as a lobby, and the use of a VIP parking area that was not included in the theater's initial parking layout.

Costello argued that it was unfair to place blame on neighbors who complained, no matter when they moved in, because the town did a noise study that determined the noise level produced during concerts was "atypical" for the neighborhood.

"Something has changed" with the theater in the past three to eight years, she said. "There is music being created that now disturbs the neighborhood, and that is unreasonable."

Molloy said that in the past several months the Oakdale has voluntarily adopted several measures to reduce the noise level, such as imposing a lower decibel limit on shows and installing sound doors.

"The number of complaints have been substantially reduced to only one or two individuals since these measures were adopted," Molloy said.

Jim Koplik, president of Live Nation Connecticut, the company that owns and operates the Oakdale, said it was unfair for people to move to the area of an existing music theatre and not expect at least a little noise and traffic congestion. He said that the Oakdale was one of the few remaining successful music theaters in Connecticut and that imposing harsh sanctions or trying to severely limit its noise level would only make things more difficult.

"There are really no long standing theaters for profit like the Oakdale anymore," Koplik said. "And these issues are just making it more difficult for the Oakdale to do business."

Many residents who attended the meeting spoke out in support of the Oakdale, with business owners citing the positive economic impact on the community, while longtime residents recalled attending years of memorable performances at the venue.

"We wouldn't want a black scar on the town of Wallingford to say we closed down a venue like the Oakdale," said Steve Zion, owner of Toyota of Wallingford, one of the Oakdale's sponsors.

Molloy said the Oakdale would face a difficult road ahead if the town continued to adhere to such a rigid interpretation of its "no noise" condition and might have to contemplate shutting down.

"If the town chooses to literally interpret the no noise condition…we can't operate our business. It's a logical result," Molloy told the zoning board. "Hypothetically, someone walks out in the parking lot and claps their hands, they're making noise."

Molloy said the Oakdale also has an application before the planning and zoning commission on June 8 to modify several of the conditions of its original permit to try and resolve the issue with the town.

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