Give Peace and Quiet a Chance?
The Boone Town Council is wrestling with a very old rhetorical
question: “Can a guy get any peace and quiet around here?”
The answer? Not without an awful lot of debate.
Clarification was the goal of Tuesday night’s discussion, though the meeting adjourned without a resolution. The town’s attorney, Sam Furgiuele, has been tasked with compiling Tuesday’s consensus proposals into a draft ordinance. He’ll present the draft at the council’s regular meeting on Feb. 21, when the council will take up the discussion anew.
The council has been working since June of last year to rid the town’s noise ordinance of some confusing language, which left business owners in the dark on how to comply with the rules, and placed Boone police in a bind when they attempted to enforce them.
The council is trying to rewrite the ordinance using objective, measurable standards that, hopefully, will make it easier for businesses and law enforcement to observe the law, while providing neighborhoods with some measure of peace and quiet.
Sound levels are typically measured using an electronic device that interprets noise as decibels (dBA), an internationally recognized unit for quantifying sound pressure. A whisper, for example, measures about 15 dBA. A normal conversation is around 60 dBA. A rock concert checks in at between 100-120 dBA. Exposure to sounds louder than 85 dBA for prolonged periods can lead to permanent hearing loss.
The rules proposed Tuesday night include capping sound levels at 65 dBA when measured up to 10 feet outside the source’s property line between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Not surprisingly, the proposal pleased no one.
Terry Taylor, who lives in the Grand View Heights neighborhood just above the West King Street downtown business district, lobbied for a maximum 55 dBA after 11 p.m. on every night of the week, Friday and Saturday included. “We’ve got people who need to sleep in our neighborhood – elderly people and kids who need to get up for school the next day,” he said.
Mark Dixon owns Galileo’s Bar & Café on the far west end of King Street’s downtown business district. He told the council at an August meeting that he’d canceled plans to use his restaurant patio as a venue for a summer outdoor concert series, largely because he feared that noise complaints would change his profits into fines.
Dixon was one of two local business owners who addressed the council during the brief public portion of Tuesday night’s meeting. He pointed out a possible catch in any plan to use building exteriors, rather than property lines, as the reference point for sound measurements, a possibility the council had briefly considered.
“Ten feet from the building would be in the middle of my patio,” Dixon said. “So, I don’t think that would be very fair. I’m hoping we can find a way to mitigate these factors, because if (the noise regulations) become a problem, you won’t have to worry about bands playing later (at night), because we won’t exist.
He said his business depends upon those two hours after midnight that they’re allowed by law to continue serving alcoholic beverages.
“Bands don’t stop playing at midnight,” he said. “If we can’t have live music until (2 a.m.), we won’t have live music. You can’t have live music from 8 to 10, or 8 to 11 – it’s not economically feasible.”
Skip Sinanian, co-owner of the Boone Saloon, said a limit of 55 dBA Sunday through Thursday would likewise cripple his business. “Boone is tiny, so the (performers) who come here are not going to be playing on Friday and Saturday night. They’re going to be playing in Atlanta and Charlotte and New York. So we have to book them on Monday nights and Wednesday nights. Now, we might as well unplug them and not even do it, because it’s not going to be worth it to get (citation) after (citation).”
Sinanian’s popular downtown bar and restaurant was the only Boone establishment to be fined under the town’s now defunct revised noise ordinance, which was in place from July to August 2011 before a moratorium was passed to allow further clarification of the rules.
Sinanian also objected to the proposed 65 dBA limit for Friday and Saturday nights between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. He’d measured the noise levels from across the street from his bar – about 25 feet away – and found the levels closer to 70 dBA.
“One of (the town’s) mission statements is to have a vibrant downtown, and this is not where we need to go to create vibrancy,” Sinanian said. “It’s going to kill vibrancy – literally. Done.”
Boone’s newest council member, Allen Scherlen, asked his colleagues if they would be willing to go to 70 dBA during the later hours of Friday and Saturday nights.
Council member Lynn Mason called the 65 dBA limit “generous,” but allowed that nothing the council eventually put into a noise ordinance would be set in stone.
“Anything we adopt is subject to revision based on feedback,” she said. “We’re trying to balance businesses and neighborhoods. I truly appreciate our businesses, but we also need to maintain viable neighborhoods as places that are livable for folks. I think we have to try something, and if we have to fine tune then we have to fine tune. But I do not want to compromise our neighborhoods.
“There are residential areas all around Boone. We’re in a fish bowl together, and we’ve got to find a way to work together.”
Boone’s new mayor pro-tem, Jamie Leigh, agreed with Mason, while council member Andy Ball pushed for raising the limit.
“I think it’s reasonable, given the public comment we’ve heard for the past six months, that at least on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. we should push the limit to 70 decibels. Because we have evidence that the live music right outside the building is higher than 65.”
Mason countered that a substantial number of complaints from citizens were evidence that 70 dBA was too loud. Ball replied that forcing Boone’s music venues out of business was not an option, and lowering the noise limits to 65 dBA just might do that.
“This was the fear back in August when more than a hundred people showed up at the public hearing,” Ball said. “We replied to that by saying, ‘No way. We’re not going to allow (businesses to fail). I think if we’re going to try something and see if it works, we should err on the side of a little more leniency. So, I think 70 is a reasonable thing to ask for during 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. – the prime time entertainment portion of our downtown economy and our whole community’s economy.”
Scherlen agreed with Ball, who then noted that earlier ordinances had placed the levels at 85 dBA and that 70 dBA seemed like a fair compromise. But council member Rennie Brantz concurred with Mason and Leigh that 65 dBA should be written into the ordinance.
The topic will appear before the council again at its Feb. 21 regular meeting.