White Oak Music Hall, the brand-new live music venue in Houston’s Near Northside neighborhood, hosts its first concert this Saturday: a sold-out show by French electronica group M83 on the complex’s 3,000-capacity outdoor Lawn at White Oak. For the city’s live-music aficionados, the landmark opening will be just about the most exciting news of the year. But not everybody is looking forward to the event.
White Oak Music Hall lies adjacent to a relatively sleepy residential community, and some of the residents of that community would prefer it stay that way. Beth Lousteau, who lives near the venue, on Goldenrod Street, says that she’s deeply concerned about the impact that a sudden influx of traffic, parking and noise will have on the neighborhood, and she says that she’s not alone.
“Everybody around in the immediate area is bracing for the worst,” Lousteau says.
Lousteau claims that the neighborhood is not prepared for the volume of cars and people that will descend upon WOMH on Saturday, or for the noise that M83 could potentially be pumping out on the outdoor stage.
“The Near Northside is the neighborhood south of the bayou, and they’re up in arms,” she says. “They are really organizing right now, because this multi-acre parking lot now appears to be planned to empty hundreds of cars into their neighborhood, because it doesn’t directly access North Main Street.
“Overall, this is a boon for the area,” Lousteau adds. “It’s not for the people within a half-mile radius all around it.”
Johnny So, one of four partners behind WOMH, acknowledges that the new venue will be a neighborhood-changer. But he says that his team has worked hard to find solutions to issues like traffic and parking that will work for both the Music Hall and the community surrounding it.
“We have been very involved in discussions with Super Neighborhood 51, which represents the totality of the neighborhood in that area,” So says. “We’ve been discussing with them about the project for well over a year. We have even gone so far as to execute a memorandum of understanding that articulates cooperative things we’re going to do to improve the area, improve the Near Northside, or to address their concerns regarding traffic and noise, parking, things like that. So it’s not like we have not had substantive discussions with community organizations and neighborhood representatives for quite some time.”
So says that nearby residents aren’t the only ones concerned about traffic and parking issues around WOMH. He and his partners are, too. On Wednesday, he said that the venue controls roughly 600 off-street parking spaces for visitors to use, along with 120 bike-rack spots. He also touted the venue’s easy proximity to the light rail, and said that the Music Hall would hire HPD officers to direct traffic and patrol the area, as well as a parking management company to increase the efficiency of the venue’s lots.
So says that there’s no doubt that some visitors will park on residential streets surrounding WOMH, but notes that that’s hardly uncommon in Houston. He also says that no matter how meticulously he and his partners plan or how closely they work with the community, they won’t make everyone happy.
“There are people out there who are just opposed to the music venue in general, and I understand that,” So says. “They moved into a community that had a certain identity, and this is a large project that is going to bring a different element that basically didn’t exist previously in that community. But by and large, most of the community is happy that we’re there.”
Still, the controversy over the new venue in the Near Northside isn’t likely to die down anytime soon, however minor it may turn out to be. The Houston Chronicle published a story on Wednesday citing concerns on the part of Beth Lousteau and others that the temporary stage that will be used for Saturday’s outdoor performance could potentially be a way to skirt the city’s event-permitting rules.
So strongly denied those charges yesterday, telling the Houston Press that a permanent outdoor stage has always been the plan and that the venue simply finds itself behind on that stage’s construction.
“We’ve been fully transparent with the City of Houston for almost two years that there’s going to be a permanent, outdoor stage,” he says. “We’re not trying to dodge any kind of city requirement. Complying with whatever the city requires from a parking perspective for the outdoor stage is what we’re going to do.”
Nevertheless, Lousteau says that she and others are worried about more than parking. Not everybody is a fan of M83, and Lousteau says that she plans to monitor the sound from the show closely from her home. If things get too loud, she says, she plans to call and make a noise complaint to HPD.
“You know, sound does funny things,” she says. “People in the cone of the stage, like Glen Park, are afraid that the building that is ostensibly designed to block the sound is not going to block enough sound. We don’t know how the sound is going to sound!
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“So if and when unimpacted fans start complaining about us pesky, whining neighbors, please think about this arrangement,” Lousteau adds. “Who puts this type of venue in the middle of a residential neighborhood and doesn't think the surrounding community is going to be upset?”
Upset or not, Johnny So says that WOMH will forge ahead undaunted, ready to comply with whatever rules the city deems necessary for the venue.
“I think there’s a very small minority of people out there who are just fundamentally opposed to a project, and there’s really no answer you can give them that’s going to make them happy aside from just canceling the project,” he says.
M83 and Yacht will christen the temporary outdoor stage at White Oak Music Hall's Lawn at White Oak on Saturday. The show is sold out. Doors open at 7 p.m.