Chattanooga's proposed sound ordinance was supposed to fix — or at least offer a legal solution to — the noise complaints associated with the popular music venue Track 29.
But the city's new ordinance could have wider implications, determining winners and losers among local music venues or small businesses by virtue of their locations. And some residents say that creating a defined music district so close to neighborhoods could force residents out of the growing urban core even as the city tries to get more people to move downtown.
"I feel like the city is setting up a situation where businesses can succeed and residents will fail," said Kerrick Johnson, president of the Fort Negley Neighborhood Association, which covers the area from Main to 20th Street. "We've worked hard to make this a nice place to live again. But they could potentially kill our neighborhood."
The City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance tonight, but first council members will offer multiple amendments that could shrink the boundaries of the sound district and lower the bass decibel levels.
The current proposed boundary runs from Fourth Street on Market and Broad streets, crosses partially onto M.L. King Boulevard past JJ's Bohemia, then down to East Main Street past Track 29 into a residential neighborhood. Within that district, business owners could apply for a permit to play live music or the radio at sound levels heard outside their venue of 80 decibels or bass levels up to 95 decibels on the weekend till midnight or weekdays till 11 p.m.
Council members say the city has to weigh the interests of a growing number of residents living downtown with a booming music and entertainment nightlife to arrive at a balanced law.
Officials also have to examine whether talk of creating an entertainment district would mirror the same space downtown and whether that fits into what downtown Chattanooga wants to be in 10 to 15 years, council Chairman Chip Henderson said. He wants to shrink the noise boundary by about three blocks to Seventh Street.
"Right now we're talking about music, we're looking at a defined area, but also what that could become in the future," he said.
Advocates for the new ordinance argue that the city's current sound restrictions of 50 decibels after 9 p.m. stifle downtown's music scene.
But some business owners disagree with the proposed sound ordinance boundaries, which would exclude businesses like Rhythm and Brews, one of the oldest downtown music venues, Flying Squirrel, a popular bar off Main Street, and a new event hall, The Church on Main.
Matt Lewis, co-owner of multiple bars and restaurants, asks why the city is drawing lines that exclude some businesses downtown. Even though three of his businesses -- The Terminal, Hair of the Dog and Honest Pint -- would be included in the district, he said the lines seem to cater to a few venues.
"What is the goal here?" Lewis asked. "If we're trying to build Chattanooga as a destination city it is really hard to do that without making noise. Raise the decibel levels for downtown, period. I don't know if it needs to be 90 or 70 decibels, but it should be raised."
Councilman Chris Anderson plans to offer an amendment that expands the sound boundaries slightly. He originally proposed extending the boundary 500 feet beyond the street boundaries in order to include businesses nearby but lacking an address as required on, say, Market Street.
But after he spent the weekend measuring that distance from the boundaries, he said he determined that the reach was much too wide, extending into the city's neighborhoods.
He said he's conflicted about protecting the interests of neighbors and businesses off Main Street at The Church on Main, which would be outside of his new proposed boundaries.
"I'm talking to everybody about what's a fair compromise that both sides can accept," Anderson said. "If anybody thinks they are getting everything they want, they will be disappointed."
Co-owner of Church on Main, Alison Morris, said the city needs to understand how small businesses could be hurt if they are excluded from keeping up with their competitors down the street.
"On one side I compliment the city for seeing the need to make a change," she said, "but I'm a little perplexed at why we would make a piecemeal change."
This ordinance should create an entertainment zone that keeps small businesses competitive, she said.
No one who lives downtown wants to see businesses fail, said Mike Fulbright, president of the Jefferson Heights Community Association, but those businesses should also be good neighbors.
"I'm all about the growing direction of this city and the prosperity of the city," he said. "But I hate to see the certain prosperity of one organization, if it's taking away from a person that lives downtown."
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.
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Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...