New Noise Ordinance
Last Friday, the Council voted in favor of the new noise ordinance I sponsored. I believe this is an important step towards better regulation of noise from commercial uses - especially bars - that impacts residences.
Working on a new noise ordinance was not something expected to be spending time on when I ran for office three years ago. But, for a number of reasons, noise and how we regulate it is something that many of my constituents car about, (especially those living on 7 corners and in areas where entertainment areas are close to residential properties) and it is something that I decided to tackle earlier this year.
One reason it became important to do something was because, several years ago, a downtown bar sued the City and won, convincing the courts that our old noise ordinance was unconstitutionally vague. Since then, we've only been able to use the State code to enforce, and in doing so we have discovered some significant gaps. For instance, if someone lives in a building that directly abuts the sidewalk - which is common, in commercial areas with lots of bars - the State code does not treat them like other residences. Rather, it treats them like industrial space or right-of-way, allowing much more noise.
Another major flaw of the current State code is that it uses a conventional "A" weighting, meaning that it discounts low-frequency noise. The new City code will use a "C" weighting, which treats all audible sound basically the same. This will allow us to much better regulate bass-heavy noise from bars - think about thudding beats for hours at a time.
One of the most important things to me about this change is that we will be using this new way of measuring sound that will allow us to better regulate the base tones that are often the most disturbing to residents.
The second thing I tried to accomplish was to come up with a acceptable and measurable standard that would help both businesses and residents understand when things get too loud and, for those businesses making noise, find ways to hand the noise so that could avoid violated our standard. It was a challenge finding a standard, but after looking at what other Cities use, working with staff and others and listening to what is and what isn't a violation we settled on noise that is an average of 10 decibels above ambient (or background) noise during the day time and 5 decibels above ambient noise between 10 and 6 am. Additionally, we listed a number of things that are exempt including snow plowing equipment and sporting events at our major stadiums (but not music concerts).
I know that some residents believe the new regulation does not go far enough, and some bar owners fear it's gone too far, but I'm eager to look at how enforceable it is over the next year or so. And if changes need to be made, I will be happy to bring them forward. I'm thrilled to have gotten this through Council, and hope that it will go a long way towards ensuring that a small number of business owners don't disturb the sleep and peace of residents.