published Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Southside neighbors sound off about Track 29 noise behind the Chattanooga Choo Choo

  • photo
    Residents of the town homes on Adams Street, which are about 100 yards from Track 29, say that music from concerts can be so loud that they can feel the bass in their chests from inside their homes, but the venue only faces a penalty of $50 for a noise violation per Chattanooga ordinance.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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Some Southside residents say their nights start so calm, so peaceful. And then, across the train tracks …

Memphis rapper Juicy J takes the stage: “Light our blunt baby,” he commands, “let’s get ignorant.”

In her own home on Jefferson Street, Gayle Schoenborn notices her windows rattling. She turns the TV up, but it can’t compete with the bass coming out of the speakers at Track 29.

Some of Schoenborn’s neighbors say a similar episode unfolds inside their homes during concerts at the music venue behind the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Jim Ray feels the bass thumping in his chest. Dottie Youells hears her walls shaking on Adams Street.

These neighbors, as well as a developer hoping to build more homes in the area, say the music from Track 29 keeps them up at night, leaves them groggy the next day and hurts their quality of life. Eventually, they say, the music venue will sink their property values.

If someone can hear music at a volume louder than 50 decibels outside their home after 9 p.m., the venue playing the music is in violation of the city’s noise ordinance. If the venue’s owners don’t lower the volume after a warning from police, they get a ticket. Fifty decibels is about the level of normal conversation in the home.

Neighbors say they have measured sound coming from Track 29 at 65 decibels.

Through May, police officers had cited the Track 29 owners for noise violations seven times this year. The price of each violation is $50. Neighbors say the punishment is not severe enough, that such a fine won’t motivate the owners to turn down the music.

So for about a year they have pushed for a new noise ordinance. They want one that punishes repeat violators. Like a driver whose license gets suspended after too many traffic tickets, some residents near Track 29 and other venues believe the city should suspend the owners’ business licenses after several noise ordinance citations.

But a year after neighbors began complaining to city officials about Track 29’s noise, the ordinance remains unchanged. They believe this is because the owner of Track 29 is Adam Kinsey, the son of former mayor Jon Kinsey.

Members of the City Council say this is not true. They say altering the ordinance takes a lot of research and a lot of time. But a change is in the works, and the council will begin to look at a potential new ordinance next week.

The problems began in May of last year, when an electronic music DJ named Bassnectar performed at Track 29. Neighbors say the volume was unbearable, so loud that vibrations from the concert set off car alarms and pushed a picture off Youells’ windowsill.

That’s when Deb Royal, a contractor who built townhouses on Adams Street, asked for a meeting with city officials. Royal owns enough land to build nine more homes in the area, but she says she won’t do that until the music from Track 29 is quieter. She says nobody will want to buy the homes next to the venue.

Royal and neighbors met with Jon Kinsey, Adam Kinsey, their attorney, police officers and a member of the city attorney’s office last June. During the meeting, Royal said, Adam Kinsey apologized for the noise from the Bassnectar concert and asked for time to figure out how to lower the volume carrying to nearby homes.

But the problem persisted, Royal said, and in January she and others in the area began to report noise violations to the police. This year, according to Hamilton County 911 records, people have complained 26 times about Track 29.

In March, Royal began emailing mayor’s office staff member Molly Cooper after every Track 29 concert to tell her whether the Kinseys had violated the noise ordinance again. On May 15, Royal and neighbors met with Cooper and members of the city attorney’s office to discuss a potential new ordinance. More than a month later, Royal said she doesn’t know what is in the works.

“We want Track 29 to be here,” Royal said. “It’s a great thing for the city. We’ve never, ever said we don’t want the venue. We do want the venue. We want (Adam Kinsey) to be a good neighbor.”

Adam Kinsey did not return multiple calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Royal believes city officials could move faster, especially when she sees how some have reacted to the recent sign ordinance controversy. Days after the owner of Koch’s Bakery was told to paint over her $11,000 flying doughnut mural because the city code deemed it advertising, the council asked the city attorney’s office to examine the sign ordinance and determine whether it is too ambiguous.

Royal says the City Council has moved slower with the noise ordinance because it could hurt the son of Jon Kinsey, who served as mayor from 1997 to 2001 and still operates a development company in town. Councilman Jerry Mitchell, who has volunteered to lead the charge in changing the noise ordinance, has been friends with Jon Kinsey since third grade.

“We believe that under these circumstances,” Royal wrote in an email Wednesday morning to Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman, “Councilman Mitchell should recuse himself from debating this issue.”

Councilman Chris Anderson, who was included on the email, later told Royal that he resented the implication that members of the council can’t stay objective when their decisions affect their friends.

“This offensive email sets us back in terms of cooperation & civility,” Anderson wrote.

Mitchell understands why Royal would object to him working on the ordinance, but he says his friendship with the Kinseys won’t impact his decision. He says the noise ordinance is too harsh toward music venues right now, that he wants to raise the level of acceptable volume.

Mitchell said he is studying ordinances in Nashville, Knoxville and Austin, Texas. He believes a more liberal noise ordinance will benefit Chattanooga.

“If we want to attract young, tech-savvy people here,” he said, “it’s going to come down to good coffee shops, good craft beer and good music.”

He also said the ordinance could benefit from different rules for businesses that are downtown and businesses that are in residential areas. He doesn’t yet know specifically what would constitute “downtown,” or whether Track 29 would be included.

He hopes to introduce a new ordinance to the council in the next couple weeks after meeting with the city attorney’s office. He has not met with Royal or those living near Track 29.

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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