New noise ordinance in Chattanooga: Louder but stricter

New noise ordinance in Chattanooga: Louder but stricter

July 20th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Residents who live near Track 29 say loud music from concerts at the site can be oppressive.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should the city's noise ordinance allow higher decibel levels?

For more than a year, neighbors of Track 29 have complained of loud concerts that rattle pictures on their walls and keep them awake at night. But Chattanooga officials' proposed solution to the complaints is to raise the allowable noise level in a newly created entertainment area.

Chattanooga officials say the solution is fair for all sides, helping expand the Scenic City's vibrant downtown while creating stricter enforcement for venues that violate noise regulations.

Currently, if someone can hear music at a volume louder than 50 decibels -- comparable to a normal conversation -- outside their home after 9 p.m., the venue playing the music is violating the city's noise ordinance.

The city proposes to revise the ordinance so that entertainment venues could get permits to play louder music after 9 p.m. The proposal will be unveiled to the City Council on Tuesday.

City Attorney Wade Hinton said the part of the ordinance that appeases the neighbors is heavier enforcement for the venues that go above the defined sound level. An outline of the ordinance shows that facilities that exceed the sound levels could have their sound permit, as well as their beer permit, suspended or revoked.

Some Southside neighbors are asking if this is a prequel to a future entertainment district that community leaders and government groups have been studying.

"I feel used as a conduit for their agenda," said Deb Royal, a contractor who built townhouses on Adams Street near Track 29 and has helped lead the efforts to change the noise ordinance. "It's like they used us."

But while Royal and some others are unhappy with Track 29 and have written Mayor Andy Berke to say so, another group of residents says Chattanooga's nightlife needs to grow.

Hinton said the idea for an entertainment district is separate from the designated loud-music zone in the sound ordinance.

He and Track 29 owner Adam Kinsey, son of former mayor Jon Kinsey, serve on Berke's task force to study entertainment and attractions downtown. Some ideas being studied aim to identify areas in the city center to concentrate entertainment programs and to create more late-night venues.

Now Kinsey and and several other business owners have created and circulated a petition to "save Chattanooga's nightlife" that has attracted 2,500 signatures.

The petition claims that Chattanooga has one of the lowest allowable noise levels in the country and that it needs to be raised. Nashville has an allowable noise level of 85 decibels, which is about the sound of a kitchen blender or blow dryer.

"I live and own a business on Main Street and know we need this night life to continue growing. We live in a city. Cities aren't quiet," Madeline Steiner wrote on the petition.

Kinsey said it's impossible for Chattanooga to consider expanding patio entertainment, live music venues and a growing downtown without changing the city's sound ordinance.

He said the majority of his noise-violation citations at Track 29 -- seven so far this year -- were in the 60-decibel range and the highest was around 70 decibels, which is still lower than the level of sound allowed in many other cities.

"We're looking out for all of Chattanooga, what will make an active and vibrant downtown," he said.

Yet Royal, who put together a spreadsheet for the city attorney's office on city sound ordinances across the country, said she found several cities that have lower noise levels and Chattanooga has to find a way to balance a lively nightlife with the growing population downtown.

ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT?

As the city attorney's office crafts a new sound ordinance, the Benwood, Lyndhurst and McKenzie foundations already paid for a study that was completed this summer to determine how to grow Chattanooga's entertainment and music industry. Last week, foundation representatives met with Berke to talk about the study, Berke spokeswoman Lacie Stone said.

The findings suggest that despite challenges to expanding the music sector, there exists a dedicated group of local musicians, venue owners and music sector representatives willing to put in the hard work. The study cited popular venues such as Rhythm & Brews, The Honest Pint, Flying Squirrel, JJ's Bohemia and Track 29.

The study said the No. 1 way to grow the city's entertainment and music industry is to create a defined district -- think Beale Street in Memphis, Music Row in Nashville and Bourbon Street in New Orleans -- that offer an active music scene along with entertainment, shopping and dining options after normal business hours.

A study for the city sketched a possible entertainment district including the Tivoli Theatre, downtown venues such as JJ's Bohemia and the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, and along East Main Street to Adams Street, taking in Track 29.

The findings suggest that the city convene a task force of residents, business owners, music sector residents and staff to recommend changes to noise ordinance rules and enforcement.

Hinton said he hasn't seen the study produced by the foundations and the mayor's task force is still in its preliminary stages. Berke's deadline to present ideas that spin out of his six task forces is Nov. 1.

The sound ordinance is something that has been very important to the neighborhood, Hinton said, so the city attorney's office "is focused on this right now only. Then we can focus on the entertainment district."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

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