Alan Riggs was standing outside the Hawg Pen, testing the decibel levels for a club where he frequently DJs when he noticed a man dash out of a parked car and into another vehicle, which then sped off around the corner.
Curious, Riggs walked over to examine the abandoned car. There was a sign in the window:
He walked down to the edge of Paula Street to the intersection with Hodges, where he’d seen the second car pull off.
“I’m going down Hodges, looking at this guy sitting in the ice rink driveway just videotaping me and taking pictures,” Riggs said.
“So I walked up and he rolled down his window; I said, can I help you, he said, ‘I just want to know why you’re operating above the noise ordinance.'”
“As a matter of fact,” Riggs said, “That’s how I met Nick.”
Two Bad Neighbors?
Nick Voss lives in the nearby Forest Acres subdivision. Less than a month after meeting Riggs for the first time in January 2016, he found himself banned from the premises of the Hawg Pen.
“We had to trespass him,” explained Erwytt Franks, president of the Hawg Pen.
“He was out there, taking pictures, scaring my patrons; why are you out in the parking lot taking pictures?” Franks asked.
Voss said he was gathering evidence that the club was operating without all the permits he believed necessary.
“When Hawg Pen didn’t have their Amplified Entertainment Permit, I would go out there each day they were open and videotape them, the music, the customers coming in,” Voss said.
Hawg Pen received the permit in mid-February 2016.
This video was shot by Nick Voss in January. The man on the right is Alan Riggs, the other is an unidentified member of the Vicious Hogs.
Things weren’t always so acrimonious.
Back in January, Voss and Franks shared a drink at the Hawg Pen and went over the concerns and issues Voss had.
“Based on my conversation, they were going to be a much better neighbor, I was going to work with them through the process, they were going to be much better; obviously that didn’t happen,” Voss said.
Franks described it as a “nice conversation to help [Voss] with his issues,” but concluded there was nothing he could do.
“I said look dude, the only thing we’re trying to do is be a good neighbor; if we’re bothering you, we’ll turn it down,” Franks said.
“That was on a Sunday afternoon; on Monday afternoon, he was down at the police station complaining on us.”
A Failure to Communicate
Franks said he made sure that Voss had his and Riggs’ phone numbers so he could reach out directly any time he felt the music was too loud.
“The day they got their AEP permit they were pretty loud, so I sent a text to Riggs,” Voss said.
“I said, do you know how loud it is in my home? I can hear the music from here.”
“He shot me one text message,” Riggs said of his communications with Voss.
“It was basically a nasty message that said, ‘The music’s very loud tonight, I guess that’s the way it’s gonna be from now on.'”
“I reached right over and turned the bass down; he didn’t say thanks, I haven’t heard from him since. You can’t complain about a problem if you’re not going to work for a solution,” Riggs said.
Franks said Voss had actually reached out to him last week in another attempt to broker the peace.
“So I talked to my attorney first; he said, ‘Knowing Nick Voss, he’s up to something.’ He was trying to find something he could turn around and use against us, give to the City Council; we haven’t done anything wrong,” Franks said.
Voss confirmed he had tried to set up another sit down with Franks, but said the club had been blowing him off ever since it received its Amplified Entertainment Permit and that the meeting never happened.
The Proper Permits
Voss’ main problem with the Hawg Pen, he said, was that they had been operating without an Amplified Entertainment Permit, which meant there were no real consequences for the club violating the noise ordinances, which could set a problematic precedent for the area.
According to city code, an “Amplified entertainment shall mean any type of music or other entertainment delivered through and by an electronic system. Televisions operating with no amplification other than their internal speakers and background music systems operated at a low volume and not intended for entertainment shall not be deemed amplified entertainment.”
As the Hawg Pen was utilizing a speaker system inside the club, Voss argued the business needed to obtain an Amplified Entertainment Permit.
This was when he began filming the club’s coming and goings.
City Ordinance 12-5003 states that the maximum noise limitation for a commercially zoned property, such as Hawg Pen, is 60 dB during the day and 55 dB at night.
On the day he met Voss, Riggs said the sound meter he’d purchased put the noise level around 60 dB right outside the club, although Voss remembers it differently.
“The first conversation I had with [Riggs], he told me they were running 65-70 dB outside of the building: far larger than any club downtown,” Voss said.
A chart of sound levels provided by the US Department of Labor equated 60dB to a “conversation three feet away.” 70dB is “classroom chatter,” and a nightclub is estimated at 120dB.
Sound ordinance issues are often dealt with at the discretion of the responding officer, which may lead to inconsistent policy application across the city.
Lack of Enforcement
According to Voss, the Hawg Pen is not the only problem club along Paula Street, a strange industrial dead-end sandwiched between Atlantic Avenue and Wake Forest Road in North Raleigh that hosts a variety of clubs and auto repair shops.
The neighboring Luc Lounge and El Tucanazo, both of which opened around the same time as Hawg Pen in May of 2015, were, according to records obtained from the Raleigh Police Department, cited a total of 20 times throughout 2015 for noise violations.
In that same time period, the Hawg Pen received zero citations, although it did receive one in January 2016 for not having its Amplified Entertainment Permit.
While Luc Lounge and El Tucanazo are more traditional nightclubs, Franks described the Hawg Pen as “a private club — it’s a biker bar.”
“They ride Harley Davidsons,” Franks said of his patrons.
“These guys work hard for a living, they work in the community, and it’s a place we hang out, that’s all there is to it,” Franks said.
The Hawg Pen essentially serves as the clubhouse for the Vicious Hogs Association of Raleigh/Durham; an African-American, Harley-exclusive biker club.
Voss said when the establishment first opened, he had no issues; it was, as he had been told it would be, a place for guys to get together and watch football.
As the club began to extend its hours — it had been closing around 11, Voss said — it also began to increase the volume at which it played music.
To Voss’ surprise, when he called the very same officers he had been dealing with in regards to the other clubs, as documented on his website, his complaints appeared to fall on deaf ears.
“When it comes to a call with the Hawg Pen, it’s completely different. It’s the exact same officers who I worked with for months, both I and my neighbors recognized a complete change; it’s the exact same officers on the exact same street with a completely different attitude,” Voss said.
“Before they respond to our house, they will drive by the Hawg Pen extremely slowly; pull in across the street, pull back out, very slow, to make sure the doorman sees them so it’s not really that loud anymore when they have to go over with the sound meter.”
In order to call more attention to the problems he was having, Voss addressed City Council earlier this week about the Hawg Pen, levying the charge that it was being “protected” from citations because it was owned by law enforcement officers.
At that Council meeting, Captain Tommy Klein, who oversees the North District in which Hawg Pen is located, said he had found no evidence of such ownership, noting that the department takes these kind of allegations extremely seriously.
Voss persisted with his claims in an interview the next day, saying he’d been told by “multiple people” that the club was operated by law enforcement.
“I think it was county sheriffs, maybe Durham County,” Voss said, explaining he hadn’t been able to nail down specifically which law enforcement agency had in their employ a partial owner of the Hawg Pen.
“My neighbor works with a guy who goes to the club; he apparently called those guys ‘RPD;’ that guy said several the guys there are RPD, whether they’re owners or just members in the club I’m not sure.”
Franks categorically and emphatically denied Voss’ allegations.
“We don’t have any police owning us. That is incorrect.”
The lack of citations, he said, is simply proof that they had been doing nothing wrong.
For his part, Franks is a 4 percent owner in Hawg Pen with a full-time career in another industry. The Hawg Pen, he said, is something he does for fun.
No owner of the Hawg Pen owns more than 25 percent of the company. Franks’ name is the only one listed on filing papers with the State’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Agnes Stevens, the Public Affairs Director with the NC ABC Commission, said they had no record of any past or pending violations against the Hawg Pen.
We reached out to the Raleigh Police Department for more detailed statistics and information regarding noise ordinance violations but they were unable to process the request prior to publication. Once that information is received, this article will be updated accordingly.
Voss bought his home in December 2014, which he described as a “quiet time.” He estimates he’s about 1,200 feet “as the crow flies” from the Hawg Pen.
The Hawg Pen sits a block to the north and across a small body of water from Voss’ home at the intersection of Hodges and Paula.
“I’m on the other side of the street, a row of houses sits in between me and them,” Voss said.
“Plus they’re farther away from me than the other two clubs, and I still have no problem hearing them inside of my home, even though there’s houses in the way.”
Riggs said while he empathizes with Voss’ situation, he argued that the blame should fall more on Voss’ realtor than the nightclub owners.
“Paula Street’s had clubs on it for 30-some years,” said Riggs.
“Nick really wants to do a lot of things that … you know, I don’t think that he understands where he bought his house.”
“He’s on a mission to bring attention to himself. I’ve lived here my whole life, it’s been Club Row for as long as I can remember; it’s unfortunate the houses are built where they are, but you know, we all have to live and get along.”
Riggs said he had been to Voss’ home a number of times but failed to hear any music drifting over from the Hawg Pen. One on occasion, Riggs said, he directed the DJ back at the club to “turn it up wide open.” Even after this, Riggs said he “couldn’t hear a thing.”
Speaking on the history of Club Row, Riggs said the ice skating complex just to the south of Hawg Pen on Hodges Road where he first encountered Voss had itself once been one of the East Coast’s premier nightclubs; the first place in North Carolina, in fact, that Mary J. Blige performed.
As it turns out, management at Raleigh Center Ice, as it’s known today, are big fans of their backyard, biker neighbors.
“Sometimes you hear a motorcycle, but they’re not loud at all: they’re very nice,” said Cindy Murphy, a manager at Center Ice.
“Sometimes I walk with the dogs and they’re outside and they have their little grill and stuff, but the music isn’t loud.”
The Luc Lounge, however, was a different story.
“A couple of months ago I had a drunk person in here from Luc, and I had a hard time getting him out; they close at 5 in the morning and we open at 5 for a 6 a.m. game,” Murphy said.
“Those are normally 8 and 10 years olds for those games and I had that guy in here, I could barely get him out, luckily I had parents helping me.”
Franks said he has made a sincere effort to be a good neighbor; both he and Riggs mentioned a veteran the club had hired to help maintain not only his property but several surrounding ones as well, and said he allows construction crews to utilize his parking lot during the day, which was witnessed by this reporter.
To his knowledge, Franks said, Voss was the only neighbor to complain about the Hawg Pen. Both Riggs and Voss had mentioned another neighbor, John Lucero, who “didn’t say much” but was also working against the nightclubs on Paula Street. Attempts to reach Mr. Lucero were unsuccessful.
Voss said because of the alleged law enforcement connections, other neighbors are too afraid to speak out against the Hawg Pen. He cited the trespass letter he received as proof the club was willing to retaliate.
Franks dismissed this claim; emphasizing again the lack of law enforcement ownership in the Hawg Pen and saying that if his club was really a nuisance, Voss’ across the street neighbors, who are closer to his business, would have been in touch. The trespass letter, he said, was merely sent in order to shield his patrons from harassment.
Differences aside, Voss still hopes that he and the Hawg Pen will one day find a way to be good neighbors again.
Riggs and Franks feel the same way.
“I really wish Nick the best,” Riggs said of Voss.
“I just wish he would find something better to do with his time.”
Riggs also wished to make it clear that he had only been speaking on behalf of himself, and that he is neither an employee of the Hawg Pen nor a member of the Vicious Hogs.
Franks, despite his frustration, said he admired Voss’ tenacity.
“He comes out there at 10, 11, 12 o’clock at night, there’s 40, 50, 60 bikers out in the parking lot; you’re bold, you really are.”
Franks said he had racked his brain trying to figure out how he could accommodate Voss, but failed to come up with anything.
“I wish I had something legitimate I could really tell you, but I don’t have anything,” Franks said.
“Maybe he just don’t like bikers.”
Note: The Raleigh Public Record is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit that relies on small donors like yourself to stay afloat. As a way of saying thanks in advance, here’s some additional content, including a more recent video Voss shot in February and images of the Trespass letter he was sent.