Bluffton Council tables noise ordinance, agrees to visit stakeholders

dburley@islandpacket.comJanuary 14, 2014 

  • In other business, council:

  • Swore-in new councilmen Larry Toomer and Fred Hamilton Jr.

  • Approved an amendment to the tree ordinance that better protects the town's largest and most historic trees. It expands the definition of protected trees and establishes a strict review process for removing those deemed significant.

  • Discussed plans to renovate the historic Garvin House and spruce up Bluffton Oyster Factory Park. The town is accepting bids from engineers and architects for a structural assessment and preservation plan for the historically significant cabin. At the park, the town plans to add at least 45 parking spaces and construct a 8-by-150-foot floating dock with a kayak and canoe launch. A new 42-foot ramp would connect the dock to the shore, and an observation deck will be constructed on the bluff overlooking the dock, according to town documents. Construction on the dock should be complete by the start of this year's boating season, the documents said.

  • Heard a first reading of the Beaufort County School District's request that the town annex the 52-plus acre Davis Road elementary school site north of Bluffton Parkway. The elementary school will house about 1,400 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, cost about $23 million to build and should be open by August 2015, according to district officials. That request will be discussed at a meeting Jan. 22.

Bluffton Town Council thinks hearing is believing.

The panel tabled a revised noise ordinance at its meeting Tuesday night that would limit how loud and how long outdoor music can be played in all of Bluffton.

Instead, council will visit the Old Town businesses where outdoor music is played and the homes of residents who have complained about what they call excessive noise on Calhoun Street.

Council members hope the visits help them decide on a proper volume before noise law is changed.

"I've come to the conclusion that this is all about volume," Councilman Ted Huffman said, "so it looks like we're going on a field trip."

Before the visits, Matt Jording, co-owner of the Old Town Dispensary, a Calhoun Street tavern at the center of many of the complaints, said he will install volume-controlling speakers.

The $300 devices make it impossible for anyone to turn up the volume other than the software company who control the speakers, Jording said. Every performer would be required to use the speakers, ensuring volume does not get too loud, he said.

"There are nights where we deserve complaints, and there are nights where we don't," he said. "This way we can set a volume and see where it goes."

Jording said his restaurant on Hilton Head Island -- the Sage Room -- has the speakers. He said he did not install them in Bluffton because he doesn't know what volume would be acceptable.

"That's something for council to decide," he said.

Council voted 4 to 1 to table the ordinance, with Fred Hamilton Jr. dissenting.

Mayor Lisa Sulka said no time has been set for the visits.


Under the revision, outdoor noise would be banned before 10 a.m. and after 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and after 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Current law prohibits such noise after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and after midnight Friday and Saturday.

The ordinance also would require businesses to amend their licenses to allow outdoor entertainment. Those without the outdoor license would be restricted to six outdoor events a year requiring a special-events permit from the town.

During hours that music is allowed, it could not be "plainly audible" from an adjacent property or street. Plainly audible is defined as any sound other than "normal, unaided human conversation."

Bluffton police officers investigating noise complaints "need not determine the title of a song, specific words, or the artist performing the song," the amendment says. Hearing bass would be sufficient.

The revision sparked outrage among some who spoke at Tuesday's standing-room-only meeting.

Some found it anti-business.

"We've said we're going to attract businesses to Bluffton," Julie O'Donnell said during the public comment period. "(Let's not) change our rules after the businesses got here."

Some Old Town residents, on the other hand, felt the proposal addressed the noise issue, and stressed that they did not want to hurt restaurants and bars.

"Those of us who live here only want what we had before the noise started," Dan Wood said. "We've never suggested closing business down."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at

Related content:

Proposed Bluffton noise law would limit outdoor music, Jan. 13, 2013

'Vague' Bluffton noise ordinance hits sour note at meeting, Nov. 20, 2013

Public dock planned for Oyster Factory Park along May River, Dec. 15, 2013

Bluffton panel considers tree protection measure, Oct. 23, 2013

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