Bluffton Town Council hears new amendment to noise ordinance

dburley@islandpacket.comFebruary 11, 2014 

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  • The new amendment

    The proposed amendment would define the decibel level outdoor amplified music can be played and determine the distance from which police officers should measure it, according to town attorney Terry Finger.

    It will also give officers the power to tell bars and restaurants to quiet down if noise from patrons is deemed excessive.

Tired of the same old song, Bluffton Town Council on Tuesday heard new plans to amend the town's noise ordinance.

The proposed amendment would define the decibel level outdoor amplified music can be played and determine the distance from which police officers should measure it to decide if it is too loud, according to town attorney Terry Finger.

It will also give officers the power to tell bars and restaurants to quiet down if noise from patrons is deemed excessive.

Council members said they thought the proposal was a step in the right direction.

For months, some Old Town residents have pushed for a change in the old law, saying noise from outdoor music and overeager patrons on Calhoun Street is excessive.

"This ordinance is two-pronged," Finger told council. "The distance and decibels are an objective way to deal with amplified outdoor music. The subjective part of the ordinance," he said, deals with crowd noise.

Councilman Ted Huffman said he agreed with that part of the ordinance regulating crowd noise.

"It's incumbent on proprietors of establishments to let patrons know they're in a historic district, they just can't cut loose," Huffman said.

Council did not vote on the amendment at the meeting, but each member detailed their preferences on how long and how loud they thought outdoor music should be played each day.

Members varied on those days.

Fred Hamilton Jr. said music should only be played Thursday through Saturday.

Huffman favored every day but Sunday.

All wanted music to end by 10 p.m. Current law prohibits loud outdoor noise after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and after midnight Friday through Saturday.

Most agreed 60 decibels -- the sound of chatter in a crowded restaurant -- was a good maximum decibel level, but opinions differed on how far away that level should be measured.

Mayor Lisa Sulka said police officers should take noise measurements from 100 feet.

Councilman Larry Toomer put that number at 300 feet.

"Call me the bad boy," Toomer said.

Members suggested those distances based on an early evening visit to Old Town on Feb. 1 in which council took decibel measurements in the historic district while a band played outdoors at the Old Town Dispensary -- a tavern at the center of many of the noise complaints.

Noise readings from that night determined the decibel level dropped well below 60 at 250 feet away from the restaurant, according to town planner Shawn Leininger.

Finger, the attorney, said he would factor in council's suggestions to create an amendment ready for first reading in March.

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

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