The Chattanooga City Council has given its first blessing on a controversial noise ordinance, and some music venues in the city's downtown and South Side may be able to keep the music playing - with the appropriate permits.
Council members unanimously voted on first reading to approve an amended version of a sound ordinance that has for months pitted music venues against nearby residents in the city's urban core.
The council will vote again next week for a final pass at the local rule.
The ordinance was proposed after the city heard a stream of complaints from South Side residents who live near Track 29, a popular music venue.
After much discussion last week -- and a room-shaking sample of music played at high decibels --the council decided to shrink the proposed loud music district and lower the allowable bass level to 90 decibels. But since there were so many changes to the draft ordinance, council members deferred voting for a week.
The music district will run from Seventh Street to Main Street on Market and Broad streets. It also ends east on Main Street, stopping short of residential areas across the railroad tracks near Adams Street.
There, music venues and local businesses would be able to apply for a permit to play music at 80 decibels, or 90 decibels of bass, on weekends until midnight and weekdays until 11 p.m. But they would have to show efforts to deaden sound in their buildings before they get approved to crank up the tunes.
Councilman Chris Anderson, who represents part of the area covered by the newly created music district near Main Street, said it was difficult to balance the rights of residents with those of business owners. But governance is about compromise, he said.
"I said at the start of this if there was anyone who wanted 100 percent of their demands, they would be sorely disappointed," Anderson said. "While this bill is not perfect, in our 16 months I have yet to find one that is."
Councilman Moses Freeman, who suggested a handful of unsuccessful amendments last week, said he was not pleased with the ordinance, but it is an OK start.
"We have to begin somewhere, and I'm going to take my defeat on losing out on the things that concern me. I'm just going to take that as a sign that this is a beginning, and I hope that we will take a look at this in a year," Freeman said.
Many of the complaints came from residents in Freeman's district on Jefferson Street, near Track 29. Freeman said after the meeting he's been working with residents for more than a year and knows the issues.
"This is in my district. I had hoped the rest of the council would give me more say, but they didn't," Freeman said.
Freeman said he would have liked to see the proposed district grow to include businesses between Fourth and Seventh streets, and lower the bass decibel requirements to keep things quieter for neighbors.
Still, he said the ordinance and its enforcement will help the city to better identify problems and fix them quickly, because the permitting process requires decibel readings and soundproofing measures for venues.
All council members present approved the first reading of the ordinance, but Councilwoman Carol Berz was absent.
Adam Kinsey, part-owner of Track 29, said after the meeting he wasn't completely satisfied, but agreed it was a good start.
"It's good that there's now something where venues have a process to go through to be properly managed and also to know what they need to do," Kinsey said.
For example, with the specific decibel levels given in the ordinance, Kinsey now knows how much sound abatement he will need to install.
Max Poppel, owner of the Flying Squirrel and the Crash Pad, agreed that the rules provided some clarity to venue owners, and he just hopes his businesses can one day be included. Both are outside the proposed district.
"We are excited that the Cty Council is taking a look at this stuff, we think they've done an excellent job researching," Poppel said. "Hopefully, we will be able to be added at some point in the near future, but that's in the council's hands. We just hope for some sensible expansion."
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at email@example.com at 423-757-6481.