Old Town Bluffton residents tired of late-night noise

dburley@islandpacket.comOctober 20, 2013 

They've closed their doors, shuttered their windows and insulated their walls.

Despite all that, some Old Town Bluffton residents say late-night noise and loud music from Calhoun Street restaurants continue to disturb their peace.

They now want town to amend its noise ordinance.

But one Old Town restaurant owner says he does not plan to silence outdoor music.

The standoff highlights an uneasy relationship between some of the area's businesses and residents that has town officials and council members worried about future growth in the historic district.

"We don't want to be Riverstreet (in Savannah), and we don't want all the honky-tonk baggage that goes with it," Calhoun Street resident Paige Camp said in an email.

"In a mixed-use, live/work community no commercial venture has the right to make its neighbors miserable," she added.

Jacob Preston, a former town councilman who lives on Calhoun Street, said the late-night noise started about 18 months ago when the Old Town Dispensary began hosting bands who played amplified music outdoors.

Preston said he spoke to owner Thomas Viljac, who agreed to respect the noise ordinance and turn the music down at appropriate times.

But the bands played on, and more often, Preston said.

"Soon Sunday brunch at the Dispensary was 'Louie, Louie' time," he said.

Camp said the music goes late into the night, five or six times per week, causing the walls of her home to vibrate.

Viljac disputes these claims.

He said he only hosts one- and two-person bands unless he secures a special permit for a full ensemble.

He said the bands are quiet by 9 p.m. on weeknights, an hour before the town ordinance requires music to be shut down.

On weekends, he said the bands stop playing by 10 p.m., two hours before the midnight deadline.

"We control master volume and speaker direction," he said. "We're not doing anything to disturb our neighbors."

Even if Viljac's music lasts after hours, a vaguely written ordinance gives the Bluffton Police Department little control over the volume, according to the disgruntled residents.

"Calling the police is not terribly productive," Preston said. "We can ask them (the Dispensary) to turn it down -- if they choose, they can turn it down. And half the time, they will."

That's why residents are asking the town to amend its ordinance.

At three consecutive town council meetings, residents have suggested the panel allow no amplified outdoor music without a special permit.

"It's not abstract; everybody can get their head around that," Preston said.

Abstract or not, Viljac said he would not go quietly.

"One thing we won't do is do away with amplification," he said. "I think we can work on the time the music is played, but not amplification."

The town manager, council and the police department are reviewing the ordinance to see whether changes are necessary, according to police Capt. Angela Tanner.

On Friday, police passed out surveys to Calhoun businesses and residents.

Among the questions: Is noise a problem at night, where is it coming from, and does it interfere with any aspects of your home life?

At last week's town council candidate forum, noise problems on Calhoun dominated the discussion.

Several hopefuls said the town must take a stand to help residents on the street, but also acknowledged the importance of maintaining a balance between residents and development in Old Town.

In an interview last week, Mayor Lisa Sulka said responding to residents' noise complaints was her next priority.

"Now that we've got parking checked off, it's the next thing we'll address," she said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

Related content: Bluffton council candidates talk Old Town parking, late-night noise: http://www.islandpacket.com/2013/10/17/2742533/bluffton-town-council-candidates.html#storylink=cpy

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