Measuring decibels doesn't solve Old Town noise issue, council says

dburley@islandpacket.comDecember 10, 2013 

Some Bluffton officials and Old Town residents think there is a noise problem on Calhoun Street.

They just don't think a machine is the way to quiet things down.

Calling the method ineffective, Town Council decided Tuesday night police officers won't use decibel meters to enforce the town's noise ordinance.

"If I'm a resident of (Old Town)," Councilman Oliver Brown said. "A decibel reading doesn't mean anything to my irritation. If I'm not comfortable with what I'm hearing, I'm irritated."

For months the town has sought to remedy concerns about late-night noise, particularly outdoor amplified music, from bars and restaurants on Calhoun Street.

Council and town staff have worked to tweak the noise ordinance to make it easier for police officers to curtail what some see as the din.

Decibel meters, however, are not the answer for most council members.

"I'm convinced the readers won't work," Mayor Lisa Sulka said.

"Measuring with decimeters is a waste," Councilwoman Karen Lavery said. "When people hear cops coming, they'll just turn the music down."

Police Chief Joey Reynolds said decibel meters would cause "technology wars" among businesses and police disagreeing over the reader's measurements.

Councilman Mike Raymond had a different view of the meters.

The current ordinance prohibits loud outdoor noise after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and after midnight Friday through Saturday.

He said the town's previous noise ordinance, which included measuring decibel levels, worked well.

"I've played music in the Old Town for a dozen years," he said. "I believe the meter was working. The problem was we continued to get complaints after a reading was taken (by a police officer). So council figured it wasn't working and we came up with the current nuisance ordinance."

More than 20 residents attended Tuesday's meeting, many complaining the late-night ruckus disturbs their way of life.

"I can't have my grandson stay on school nights because he can't sleep," Mary Ellen Barton, a Lawrence Street resident, said. "I can't have visitors on the weekends because no one can go to bed."

Matt Jording, who co-owns the Old Town Dispensary, a primary target of the complaints, has said his restaurant has taken steps to control the volume.

The tavern has installed an insulated acoustic stage to soften noise and hired four employees as "keepers of the peace" to keep overexcited patrons in check, Jording said.

Council will again address the issue at its January meeting and suggest changes to the ordinance.

Tuesday's meeting was the last for Raymond and Brown. In January, Larry Toomer and Fred Hamilton Jr. will replace them on council.

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