Editor’s Note: The following article was published immediately after the Boone Town Council meeting in February.
By Jesse Wood
Feb. 24, 2015. If louder music is allowed in downtown Boone venues that would be music to Boone Saloon owner Skip Sinanian’s ears.
At the Boone Town Council meeting on Monday evening, Councilman Fred Hay proposed increasing the noise limit for live music in downtown to 75 decibels every day of the week until 2 a.m.
In a 3-2 vote, the council voted to have the town attorney draft a proposal to increase the decibel limit to 75 and to consider the matter at its next meeting on Thursday, March 19.
Currently, the town ordinance allows up to 60 decibels until 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 70 decibels on Friday and Saturday until 2 a.m. The decibel limit is higher earlier in the evenings on all of those days. See attached chart.
“Our ordinance is just not reasonable,” Hay said, adding that other college towns he has worked at in the past allowed for live music to be as loud or if not louder than 75 decibels.
Hay, who is the newest member of Boone Town Council and was a member of the Boone Board of Adjustment for 14 years, said that while he’s been a strong defender of single-family neighborhoods as anyone in town government, he also said that the downtown area needs protection, too.
“I also must recognize that and be realistic about the changes in Boone over the last 20 years,” Hay said. “Boone is no longer a small town with a small teacher’s college.”
In 2011, the Boone Town Council enacted changes to the noise ordinance. In February 2012, the noise ordinance was increased by five decibels to where it currently stands after comments from the public.
Hay brought this issue to the forefront last month and directed Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford to prepare a report to present to council on Monday night. Crawford compiled a list comparing the town’s ordinance to that of other towns and briefed the council on noise complaints, warnings and violations.
In 2013 and 2014, the Boone Police Department responded to 48 complaints, issued 15 warnings and handed out one violation. It also found that the businesses were in compliance 32 of those times.
When asked by council, Crawford said that it was “no question” that the majority of complaints were directed at the Boone Saloon and that the residents to complain “absolutely” the most times were Judie Humphreys and Terry Taylor of 601 Grand Boulevard.
During public comment before the council discussed agenda items, a number of people spoke on the noise ordinance topic with only Taylor advocating for a quieter downtown.
Taylor mentioned that the town council has a responsibility to curb noise in residential areas. Taylor also seemed flabbergasted that the 48 complaints only resulted in one violation.
“I am in a household absolutely disturbed by music, primarily from Boone Saloon” Taylor said.
Jesse Miller, who also lives on Grand Boulevard, just down the street from Taylor and Humphreys, said that he and his wife moved to Boone for the culture, and while he can hear music from his property, it’s never disturbed his family.
In fact, Miller noted that more noise comes from the student apartments nearby.
“They know how to have a good time,” Miller said to some laughter.
Colton Lentz, owner of The Local, formerly known as Char, on Howard Street, and Sinanian were the local business owners speaking on behalf of louder music in downtown Boone.
Referring to the fact that the Boone Police Department will only respond to a local business for noise if a person – anonymous or not – calls to complain, Sinanian described the complaint-driven ordinance as a “campaign of systematic harassment.”
Sinanian said that in 2013 31 of the 32 noise complaints were directed at Boone Saloon, and of those 31 complaints, none resulted in a violation. He explained that police officers coming to his place of business at a ration of once every 12 days is “embarrassing and disreputable.”
Plus, he says that his business has taken a hit because of the noise ordinance, resulting in less regional and national acts coming to town to play shows. Since the noise ordinance was passed, Sinanian said that his sales have declined 3 percent. While he noted that the amount didn’t sound like a lot, he estimated that this decline represented about 30 percent of his profit margin.
During Hay’s motion to increase the decibel limit, Hay also added a second motion that after two successive complaints from an individual where a business is found in compliance the Boone Police Department shall not investigate a similar call from that individual for a period of 12 months.
While Councilman Quint David said he thought raising the decibel level in downtown for live music was a “great idea,” he suggested increasing the number of successive complaints from two to five, which was voted to be included into the draft amended ordinance.
David also questioned whether the 601 Grand Boulevard residence – and not Boone Saloon – was the problem in this matter considering that the overwhelming majority of calls, regarding this citywide ordinance, comes from this residence.
Councilwoman Jennifer Pena voted along with David and Hay.
Councilman Rennie Brantz and Councilwoman Lynne Mason were the two council members to not vote in favor of drafting an amendment to the noise ordinance that would increase the decibel limit.
Mason said she has struggled with finding a balance between protecting neighborhoods in downtown, where some have said they have a hard time falling a sleep at night, and having a vibrant downtown. Mason wanted to hold a public hearing on the matter before drafting and voting on any proposal that would change the ordinance.
Brantz said the ordinance wasn’t “broken,” so why change it?
Hay responded, “It’s not working for businesses and it’s not working for [Taylor or Humphreys] or they wouldn’t complain so much.”
Brantz also wondered aloud if not responding to person’s complaints would be squashing a citizen’s freedom of speech.
On Tuesday morning, Sinanian was reluctant to get too excited because the proposal is not official yet.
While he would definitely prefer to be able to have music louder than 75 decibels, which he described as just as loud as toilet flushing or vacuum, Sinanian said, “I think that we are heading in the right direction … I think 75 is legitimate.”