Christiansburg's Starlite Drive-in receives use permit, owner still displeased

Conditional use permit allows loudspeaker broadcasting for limited movies

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Christiansburg town leaders gave approval for a local popular drive-in theater to broadcast movie sound over loudspeakers Tuesday night, but only with some conditions. The approval came in the form of a conditional use permit.

One council member, Councilman Samuel Bishop, voted against the permit, all other votes cast were in favor. But even with this new approval, the Starlite is not thrilled.

It's a local landmark that refuses to give up. For nearly 70 years, the Starlite theater has been a happy place. But that's not the case as of recent.

"We have to make noise, we're showing a movie outside," Starlite owner Peggy Beasley said. "The customers are not happy, they have quit coming, (the town) ruined my business, how can I be happy?"

The Starlite can now broadcast movie sound over loudspeakers, but only on the first movies during weekends. The second movie of the double feature must be done via radio transmission, which drains car batteries as people listen.

"We listened to a lot of citizens for and against the noise ordinance and we had to weigh it," Christiansburg Mayor Mike Barber said. "I think the planning commission did an excellent job with it and came back with a recommendation we can all live with."

As shown is a documentary trailer shown during public comment, the Starlite was around long before any of the development came in around it. The drive-in has done everything the town has asked it to do.

"It's never been a matter of the Starlite, make sure you understand, it was about residents and the right to enjoy their property in a reasonable manner," Barber said.

But the Starlite sees it as exactly about them, and questions why other town events are exempt from the ordinance. Mayor Barber said the town has no interest in competing with private businesses in this forum.

Beasley is using her retirement money to keep making the changes at the theater. A new plan includes bring pole speakers back, but it's expensive to do so and Beasley said customers' first choice is loudspeakers.

"They have betrayed me, I was born and raised here, I've been working that business since I was old enough, and they're not standing behind that drive-in, not one of them," Beasley said.

Toward the end of the meeting Councilman Henry Collins presented a $100 personal donation to help with the efforts. The Starlite also announced a crowdfunding campaign to fund the pole speakers and Beasley's legal fees, which together total up to about $70,000.

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