A swelling crowd Tuesday night supported a move at the Chattanooga City Council in support of revamping the city's sound ordinance to breathe new life into the music and entertainment options downtown.
But after the signs and support at a public hearing were gone, one business owner stepped to the podium to argue the city's policy will amount to picking winners and losers.
By creating an entertainment area some venues but not others could crank up their music to 80 decibels to the edge of their property, the city could be in danger of hurting small businesses, said Alison Morris, who owns The Church on Main with her husband. Their business on Rossville Avenue is barely outside the area defined in the ordinance.
"I want to know what venues were part of the decision-making process," Morris said.
The ordinance would allow venues with permits to play at decibel levels of 80 and bass levels of 95 until midnight on weekends and 11 p.m. on weekdays. The roughly 2-mile area starts at Hair of the Dog at Fourth and Market streets and extends to the edge of a residential area on Main Street, including Track 29.
Council members said the boundaries of the area aren't fixed. Councilman Chris Anderson said it's worth taking another look at the area to make sure the council isn't excluding an outlier businesses.
Councilman Jerry Mitchel drafted the ordinance with the city attorney's office. They say it's a good compromise for Southside neighbors outraged about the sound coming from Track 29 -- bass levels that rattled the windows and pictures on the walls -- and with business owners and officials who want the Scenic City's night life and music scene to grow.
A large group of residents agreed.
Several residents of Jefferson Heights south of Main Street wore stickers that read "JH" and held signs that Track 29 workers gave out reading, "Your vote is needed to save Chattanooga's night life."
"We are not bothered by the dull hum that comes from Track 29 and have grown accustomed to the sounds of a city," said Kelly Fitzgerald, a resident and founder of the Society of Work. "We love our neighborhood and we know without investments from small businesses near our neighborhood, we wouldn't be able to live where we live."
Yet some Southside residents who live near Track 29 and had provided input for the ordinance argued the decibel levels are too high for a city that has been focusing on bringing residents to live downtown.
"It's been said that we have one of the quietest noise ordinances in the country, when in fact ours is very common," said Deb Royal, who owns property on Adams Street and has been outspoken in the debate. "The new ordinance would seem to allow one of the loudest ordinances in the country."
Noelle Currey, an acoustical engineer, agreed with the neighbors, calling the council out for not understanding how loud 90 decibels of bass can be. She said that before Tuesday's hearing she had offered to demonstrate to the council what those decibel levels would sound like, but the council declined.
Anderson said the public hearing was supposed to give both sides an equal chance to speak up and Currey could have cast her name in the lottery like everyone else.
City Attorney Wade Hinton said the enforcement piece of the ordinance requires business owners to prove that they've soundproofed their buildings; that they haven't been in violation of the current sound ordinance -- with decibel levels at 50 after 9 p.m. -- and have sent out notice to neighbors in the area.
The ordinance also would create a three-member board with the authority to monitor venues and revoke permits for violations.
Several council members already have expressed public support for the ordinance. Others Tuesday hinted at minor amendments they would propose when the vote comes up in two weeks.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.