Noise 'field trip' brings town council to Bluffton's Old Town

dburley@islandpacket.comFebruary 1, 2014 

It's not the music so much as the words.

Bluffton Town Council, on a self-described "field trip" Saturday night to assess club noise levels in Old Town, was not bothered by the volume of outdoor music at the Old Town Dispensary.

Instead, the panel discovered chatter from patrons adds more to what some nearby residents have called a growing din.

"If you have live music, you get a dull roar from the crowd," Councilman Ted Huffman said. "And I think a lot of that is where the noise is coming from." Council is considering amending the town's current noise ordinance.

Council met at the Old Town tavern to continue working toward a solution to noise complaints from some residents in the historic district. For months, those residents have said noise from outdoor music and overeager patrons at bars and restaurants on Calhoun Street is excessive. The Dispensary has been the subject of many of those complaints.

To hear for themselves, council members strolled along Boundary, Calhoun, Church, Green, and Lawrence streets with Bluffton police officers and town staff. One officer carried a decibel meter to take sound measurements. For much of the walk, the music made by Tommy Crenshaw and Trevor Harden, two local musicians playing on the bar's stage, was barely audible.

The crowd at the bar -- about 45 strong -- was much easier to hear. Those voices were what the strollers heard first.

"I think we saw that crowd noise was worse than the music," Councilman Larry Toomer said. Several council members said the crowd noise would only worsen as the number of patrons grows, particularly during the summer.

"I definitely think nuisance noise, or crowd noise, needs to be somewhere in the ordinance," Huffman said. "I just don't know how we get at it. It comes down to being a good neighbor."

Mayor Lisa Sulka agreed.

"I don't think you can regulate people talking or children having fun," she said, pointing to a family on the tavern's patio. "It comes down to respect."

Council acknowledged the neighborhood walk -- that began about 6:30 p.m. and ended an hour later -- was taken before the bar's peak hours.

"It's not going to happen at 6 o'clock," Councilman Fred Hamilton Jr. said. "We need officers to come back at different times and different crowd levels to get a better read."

To that end, council members instructed officers to return and measure volume at several different times before the panel's next meeting Feb. 11. The officers will use Saturday's decibel readings as a benchmark to gauge noise levels later in the evening.

Otherwise, council seemed pleased with the volume set by the tavern's speakers. The level can only be turned up by the sound company contracted by the bar, co-owner Matt Jording said. The tavern's recently installed volume-controlled speakers seemed to ease the problem, council members said.

"I can hardly hear anything," Councilman Larry Toomer said at the corner of Church and Calhoun streets.

Sulka said council hasn't set a specific day to consider an amendment to the existing noise ordinance.

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

Related content:

Bluffton Council tables noise ordinance, agrees to visit stakeholders, Jan. 14, 2014

Proposed Bluffton noise law would limit outdoor music, Jan. 13, 2014

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

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