Orchard Spotlight Goes Dim

Posted by on Apr 7, 2009 | Comments (5)

A month after the City of Santa Rosa changed the zoning code to make it harder for all-ages venues to open downtown comes the disappointing news that the Orchard Spotlight, a historic church and acoustic performance space, has been forced by the City to cancel all of their upcoming concerts.

The music has been quiet. The attendees have been well-behaved. The neighbors haven’t complained. So what’s the deal?

Last week, the Orchard Spotlight hosted Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy, an underground legend who drew a large line on the sidewalk, causing a nosy tipster driving by to notify the city. “It wasn’t like they were even complaining,” says Spotlight co-owner Linda Rose-McRoy, “they just called with an inquiry, saying, ‘We saw this line outside of 515 Orchard. We wondered if that was okay.’ Like, duh!”

Rose-McRoy and co-owner Cheryl Ulrich met soon after with the Community Development department and were informed that entertainment at the Orchard Spotlight violates the area’s residential zoning. “We’ve known for a while that there were going to be some zoning questions here,” says McRoy, mentioning certain loopholes to stay loosely legal—registering on the Internet as a church, for example, and holding “mass” at 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights. “But Cheryl and I are the kind of people who don’t like feeling we have to continually look over our shoulder,” she adds. “But we’re also not giving up.”

What’s exciting is that “not giving up” involves working with the Arts District and the City Council to get a variance in zoning to allow entertainment at the venue. Vicky Kumpfer, coordinator of the Arts District, thinks it’s possible. “This is really an interesting opportunity to try to make this viable, and to work within the law,” says Kumpfer. “Yes, we have these laws, but is there a way that we can make a certain exemption?”

What the issue comes down to, then, is the neighbors, and so far, the Cherry Street neighborhood association has been supportive of the Orchard Spotlight. If that continues to be the case, and if the City is willing to honor their General Plan guideline to “consider the diverse cultural needs and talents of the community,” we may see the Orchard Spotlight rise again. “It’s just gorgeous,” Rose-McRoy says of the space. “It’s so moving, because it was built in redwood, for sound, for the human voice! I love it, it just makes me tingle all over. And so we’re not giving up.”

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  1. Ken Lantz
    April 7, 2009

    Plainly, this is bullshit. The City doesn’t have anything better to do than harass Rosa and her ilk. How about solve some significant spending and budget issues before we start taking down venues that EVERYONE would enjoy if they went. We’ve played there a couple of times and seen a few shows and it was always welcoming and frankly, exactly what this town needs. This really pisses me of. It’s not like there is loud crazy punk rock shows going on there. This is only one of a few venues that I felt like I could and did take my 3 year old son too. So what exactly do they want? To get their pound of flesh. Bullshit. I love Santa Rosa, I loath the City government. Get a clue Santa Rosa. These people are making decisions for you!

  2. Oona Risling-Sholl
    April 7, 2009

    Yet again Santa Rosa proves its stunning resemblance to the bookburners of Fahrenheit 451. Another opportunity for it to shed its scaled and scabby skin of indifference toward the youth and creative minds of Sonoma County, and it gives it the boot. Again. “‘Do you ever READ any of the books you burn?” He laughed, “Of course not, that’s against the law!” “Oh. Of course.'” -Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.

    Thanks for nothing. Again.

  3. Ken Lantz
    April 7, 2009

    Amen Oona.

  4. jacqueline Smith
    April 7, 2009

    It is important that the city recognize the importance of having such a special venue in Santa Rosa. The Orchard Church has provided a space for many local and traveling bands to share their music with our community. I have seen some wonderful music at the Church and feel deep sadness that it may not be available for future shows. I hope that we can find a solution and continue to utilize a great venue for art in our city.


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