Police: A few residents make the most noise complaints in Old Town Bluffton

dburley@islandpacket.comNovember 23, 2013 

A handful of residents in Bluffton's Old Town call in the biggest share of noise complaints to police, and they focus squarely on the Old Town Dispensary, according to department statistics.

Three residents accounted for 42 percent of the 53 noise complaints in Old Town this year, the statistics show. Almost half of the 53 complaints -- 45 percent -- were directed at the Old Town Dispensary, a tavern on Calhoun Street.

The statistics were released Wednesday, along with a survey about noise filled out by Old Town businesses and residents.

"There's a few people down there that are really perturbed with what's going on," Town Councilman Ted Huffman said. "There's some imbalance. Ultimately, we're going to use this study to help find what the consensus is and strike a balance."

Council will hold a workshop on the issue Dec. 10. For months, residents have said The Dispensary is a source of disruptive amplified outdoor music.

"You shouldn't have to watch TV with a pair of headphones on, to cancel the noise that shakes the house," Lawrence Street resident Harper Finucan said.

The Dispensary's co-owner Matt Jording said the business has tried to soften the noise. It has installed an acoustic stage with thick walls, stopped music earlier than the town ordinance requires and hired four "keepers of the peace" to prevent patrons from getting too loud, Jording said last week at a town Planning Commission meeting.

"Cornhole can bring out the animal in some people," he said of the bag-throwing game played on The Dispensary lawn.

At the meeting, Sgt. Scott Chandler released the statistics along with results from the survey delivered to 346 Old Town residents and businesses. A total of 105 responded to the survey.

"We've recognized as a town that there's a growing concern of loud noise's impact on the quality of life for the town's citizens," Chandler said. "Each citizen receives noise from a different perspective, so we wanted to find out several key components of the issue with this survey to help identify and address the problem."

Most noise complaints stemmed from late-night outdoor music at bars and restaurants along the street from Thursday through Saturday, results show. Along with The Dispensary, Vineyard 55 was cited as a noise producer.

While three residents accounted for the biggest portion of complaints, 57 percent of survey respondents agreed that there is a noise problem in the area, according to results.

Respondents suggested solutions such as earlier closing times for restaurants on the street, increased police presence and limiting outdoor music to weekends only.

Several residents proposed outlawing outdoor amplified music except by special permit.

"Unamplified sound has limited range and minimizes crowd noise by allowing customers to enjoy music, dining and conversation without having to compete with outside entertainment," Paige Camp, a Calhoun Street resident, said at the meeting.

Dispensary co-owner Thomas Viljac, the commission's chairman, recused himself from the meeting.

He said in a letter to the commission that he supports amending the ordinance to shut down outdoor music one hour earlier Monday through Thursday and two hours earlier on the weekends.

He wrote, however, that Calhoun Street is a mixed-use district, and both businesses and residents must be considered as the town deliberates ordinance changes.

"Our town is not one-square-mile anymore," he said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

Related content:

'Vague' Bluffton noise ordinance hits sour note at meeting

Old Town traffic, noise primary issues for Bluffton Town Council candidates

Old Town Bluffton residents tired of late-night noise

Presentation: Bluffton noise survey analysis

Document: Noise survey for residents

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