Updated noise ordinance draws mixed reviews

Published 2:55 am Wednesday, February 16, 2022

After hearing mixed reviews from local business owners and residents, the Washington City Council on Monday unanimously approved an ordinance to amend the Sound and Noise Control section of the Washington City Code.

The process of amending the code began around last June, when City Manager Jonathan Russell told the City Council that the noise ordinance needed updates in order to be constitutionally sound. He said the existing ordinance — which caused some frustration for local businesses, particularly those offering live music several times a month — was about a page and a half long, and at least eight to 10 pages would need to be added in order to bring it up to date.

Washington Police and Fire Chief Stacy Drakeford was tasked with updating the ordinance. He said the ordinance was effective when it was written, but it now was in need of updates.

Drakeford said he analyzed the noise ordinances of 14 other municipalities, including some that are larger than Washington and some that are smaller.

“Out of this whole process, the kind of thing that really changed was, currently in our city code it allows individuals to play (music) up to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday,” Drakeford said. “So people put their input, because knowing how things really work in the real world besides these codes, it is 11 o’clock, they’re going to get an extra 15-20 minutes to play that last set of songs, and so now you’re looking at 11:30. … So I said let’s move it back to 10 (p.m.),

“However,” Drakeford added, “what people didn’t realize is there’s an exception; all you’ve got to do is ask to play till 11. But then at 11, you’re done. There won’t be no extra playing till 11:30, quarter to 12. At 11:30, you’re done.”

The new ordinance includes some changes to the sound level limits for specific occupancy classifications. For the residential classification, the decibel limit is 60 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 50 from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.; for public spaces, commercial or business areas, the limit is 65 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 55 from 10 p.m. – 7 a.m.; and for manufacturing, industrial and agricultural classifications, the limit is 75 decibels at all times.

“Sound levels in excess of the limits established (above) will not be permitted … and are prohibited unless an outdoor amplified sound permit/permit to exceed has been obtained,” the updated ordinance reads.

The ordinance says permits to exceed should not be extended beyond 11 p.m. except on New Year’s Eve.

Per the ordinance, sound level measurements will be made with “at least a type II sound level meter meeting ANSI standards using the A-weighted scale, set on ‘slow’ response.” People using the meters “shall be trained in sound level measurement and the operation of the specific sound level measurement equipment being utilized.”

PUBLIC REACTS

Seven people spoke during the public comment session before City Council voted on the noise ordinance.

Mohamed Darar, a member of The Mulberry House Brewery’s ownership team, spoke against the proposed ordinance.

Darar stressed that the decision on the ordinance would have a widespread impact on local businesses such as his.

“I want you to imagine we’re going to the beach, we’re going to Belize, we’re going to any place to vacation,” Darar said. “I am sleeping at 8 or 9 in the night (normally). When I go to vacation I don’t sleep at 8 or 9. I stay up till 2 or 3. I’m trying to enjoy the culture of that town.”

Darar said he works and lives in Downtown Washington.

“If you want peace and quiet, downtown is not your place,” Darar said.

“What we need to make downtown is to welcome everyone, every time, around the clock,” Darar said.

Darar claimed the ordinance was written from an enforcement perspective.

“I am a brand new business; I did not hear any invitation for this to share my voice.

Darar suggested that the city form a committee of local stakeholders who could evaluate and discuss the propose ordinance before it was approved.

“But do not enforce an ordinance to put shame on my business and other businesses,” he said.

Washington resident Dot Moate suggested that the cutoff time for music be pushed back to midnight. She said she had suggested that an exception for businesses in the Main Street area be built into the ordinance; she said Drakeford told her that wasn’t feasible.

Several local residents spoke in support of the proposed ordinance. Michael Delaney said he moved to Washington from a college town because of the “calm, quiet politeness” of the area, and he wants to “live here with these polite and quiet people and retire here.”

“I’m in support of this ordinance,” Claud Hodges said. “It’s very reasonable. This town needs this.

Beth Glisson, who in a previous meeting identified herself as a former owner and current silent partner with Parley’s Sip & Steam, also supported the ordinance.

“We’ve done extensive research as owners because we wanted this to be something that worked for everybody and the common good,” Glisson said. “And I think Chief Drakeford has done an amazing job. I think it’s something we can all live with. He gives us exceptions. He gives us the opportunity for permits if we need something beyond what has been stated here.”