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Neighbors urging TABC to muzzle Nutty Brown Cafe

Concerts at venue outside Austin have expanded along with outdoor stage.

Joshunda Sanders

More than 30 residents who live near the Nutty Brown Cafe, a music venue on U.S. 290 west of Austin, have filed a protest with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to keep it from renewing the venue's operating and liquor license, citing noise from an expanded stage that some say can be heard from miles away.

Manuel Peña, 57, is one of a number of residents who say they can hear music from the cafe often enough that it disturbs their sleep. He says the complaints aren't coming from new residents moving next to the longtime music venue; he says he's lived in the Heritage Oaks subdivision for 24 years and the average complainant has been living in the area for 15 years. He says that as owner Mike Farr has expanded Nutty Brown's outdoor stage over the past three years, "the concerts ... there have gotten louder and noisier and more disruptive to the people who live around here. We're not trying to put him out of business. But I'd like for Mr. Farr to take a good look at the way his actions are affecting the neighborhood."

The cafe opened in 2000 and has offered live music from the start, typically hosting country and blues bands. Farr bought it in 2002, and two years later, he expanded the original 200-square-foot stage to 350 square feet. To attract bigger-name artists, Farr said he also had a larger professional-grade stage built in 2006, which has 35-foot towers on both sides.

The cafe is in the City of Austin's extraterritorial jurisdiction, which means that music cannot be played in excess of 85 decibels between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m. as measured at the venue's property line, according to a city ordinance.

Farr says he often limits the music, which is played Thursday through Sunday, to 80 decibels.

"I could do 25 to 30 shows on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but those are school nights and I live out here and I raise my kids out here," Farr said. "But there are some people who don't want to compromise, they don't want reconciliation, and they will not rest until they shut us down."

Around the time that noise complaints started increasing in October 2007, Farr put a tongue-in-cheek message on the marquee outside the cafe that read, "Free earplugs with every new nearby home purchase."

The TABC said it has started an investigation into noise complaints that the agency has received about the venue. Lt. Jimmy Zuehlke, a spokesman for the agency, said TABC also has received a number of letters in support of the cafe.

Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for TABC, said the agency often receives noise complaints for businesses that the agency licenses. There is a provision in the agency's code that "talks about place and manner, and it's illegal for an establishment to work contrary to the welfare of a neighborhood," she said.

Zuehlke said that the cafe's operating and liquor license is pending renewal until the investigation is completed.

"If the allegations are proven true and that could prevent them from having their permit renewed, we send it to a hearing" before an administrative judge, he said.

Farr says he is looking forward to a hearing so the noise controversy can be put permanently to rest.

"I'm going to rigorously defend my right to run my business," he said. "I'm actually for a hearing if it means we can seal this issue up. I'm completely confident we can prevail."

jsanders@statesman.com; 445-3630