Is a gay bar being unfairly targeted with noise complaints?

Steve Massey wants people to know that residents of the Laurence Court Apartments on North Oracle Road are not homophobic.

Massey says recent media coverage of a legal wrangle between Woody's Bar--an LGBT bar near the corner of Prince and Oracle roads--and the neighboring apartment complex where he lives painted a picture of a hateful apartment community.

"It's being made out to be a bigoted apartment complex--anti-gay. I don't like that stigma," Massey says. "It's the landlord. I don't like what she's been doing, and I have to stand up for Woody's and my gay community."

Massey finds himself in an unusual predicament: Not only does he live at Laurence Court, but he is friends with Linda Howeth, the apartment manager whose years of complaints finally led the Tucson Police Department to red-tag the bar in November. As a patron of Woody's, Massey has witnessed ongoing issues between the bar and his landlord/friend for four years.

That first complaint four years ago came after the bar hosted a gay fraternity party that got out of control. Even Dave Huff, co-owner of Woody's with his partner Frank Shepis, admits the party provided them with a lesson they needed to learn: While it would be profitable for Woody's to host such events, Huff says that was Woody's last frat party.

Prior to that evening, Huff and Shepis never had any problems with area neighbors, they say. The couple opened the bar eight years ago, and Huff says it wasn't until Howeth became manager of the neighboring apartment complex that the noise complaints began.

After the first incident, Huff said they tried mediation, but Howeth's demands seemed excessive and unrealistic. But Huff decided he would be more proactive, he says: If he had a special band in town that he knew was loud, or if there was going to a birthday party on the bar's patio, he'd walk over to Howeth's apartment and give her a heads-up. He also agreed to turn the patio speakers off after 10 p.m. every night.

That worked until this year, when Howeth began calling the police department regularly to complain about noise. (Huff says it's important to note that the stage area is in the back of the bar, on the Oracle Road side of the building, and that he built an 8-foot wall around the patio on the other side of the building--nearest to the apartments--to help decrease noise.)

Massey says he accompanied Howeth to the mediation meeting with Huff four years ago, and believes that she exaggerated the level of noise. From his apartment, at the end of the complex, Massey says he barely hears bands or patrons, even when he's outside smoking. Huff contends Howeth's complaints are often unfounded, with the noise coming from an adjacent apartment building, the street or another business.

In January, Huff says, Howeth complained to TPD that she could hear the "boom, boom, boom" coming from the bar at her apartment--250 feet from Woody's, on the other side of the apartment complex. In response, Huff says, TPD officers came into the bar at 12:30 a.m. and proceeded to do what's called a liquor check, in which police look behind the bar to make sure legal procedures are being followed. Liquor checks aren't all that unusual, but the timing (taking place at 12:30 a.m.) was; most customers felt intimidated and left, Huff says.

According to Huff, in March, after another complaint, all of his employees were cited with disturbing the peace, including the DJ. A month later, Huff says his attorney was able to get the charges against his employees dropped, with the exception of the DJ, who was forced to do diversion. ("Diversion" means a person enters into an agreement to do certain things, such as performing community service and staying out of trouble. If they comply, the case is dismissed.)

Huff says he would rather not play what he calls the "gay card," but he can't help but wonder if Howeth is anti-gay, and his business is being targeted as a result.

Howeth adamantly denies that she's anti-gay. In her defense, Howeth says she's not only good friends with Massey, but that she has other gay tenants.

"That is so not true," Howeth says. "My children can even tell you I've raised them to be nonjudgmental."

Howeth says her complaints are about noise, and nothing else. She has no problems with Woody's patrons, but she does have issues with Woody's patio, where patrons can sit, play pool and listen to music through a speaker system. Howeth says Huff's employees often forget to turn off the speakers at 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, Huff headed to court on Wednesday, Dec. 10, to fight the red tag. (Huff says he was also there to help bartender Jeffrey Fulgham, who was given a civil citation for unruly behavior by police on the same night the bar was red-tagged.) On the red-tag night, the bar was hosting a low-key wine-tasting.

Huff's attorney, James Gjurgevich, asked the court to hear both cases together, because it didn't make sense to cite the bartender, who was there doing his job. The judge ruled both cases could be tried together; the hearing was postponed and scheduled for Jan. 29.

Until the January hearing, it is business as usual at Woody's. Huff says he's amazed that there are no standards for complaints like these.

"All she has to do is be offended in any way and call the police," Huff says.

If Woody's loses in court next month, and if another complaint were to be filed, the bar could face bigger problems, from losing its liquor license to being forced to close.

As a small-business owner, Huff says standards are needed; without them, Howeth can call anytime and cause trouble, even if she is not telling the truth.

While Howeth says she is being honest, she also offers up one last solution to the problem: completely enclosing the patio. Howeth says that would make a big difference, and she is sure her complaints about noise would end.

The Weekly called city prosecutor Allan Merritt regarding the case and Huff's allegations that he is being unfairly targeted. Merritt said he was unable to comment on the case, because it is still pending.

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