Bluffton residents worried live-music restrictions go too far

dburley@islandpacket.comMarch 10, 2014 

STAFF GRAPHIC

A proposal to limit live, outdoor music to three days a week in Bluffton has some residents and business owners singing out in protest.

The suggested changes to the town's noise ordinance would only allow such music from noon to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, unless a special permit is acquired. The music could be no louder than 60 decibels -- the volume of chatter in a restaurant -- when measured 250 feet from the source, according to the proposal.

"I can't believe that playing (live) music would be illegal most of the time," said Mike Raymond, a former town councilman who plays music regularly at Calhoun Street restaurants. "It's a terrible message to send."

Limiting live music is among several changes to the noise ordinance that Town Council will consider at its 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday at Town Hall, 20 Bridge St. The changes stem from months of complaints from some residents in the historic district about what they call excessively loud outdoor music and late-night noise on Calhoun Street.

Town officials say the solution might not be perfect, but something must be done to curb the complaints.

"I don't know if one side is happy or the other," Mayor Lisa Sulka said. "One side wants music; the other does not. I think using decibel readings is fair and worth a shot."

Many opponents of the change say they have no problem tempering the volume; however, restricting the type of noise is a different matter.

Under the proposed ordinance, live music -- noise from a voice or instrument, amplified or not -- is only allowed three days a week.

However, outdoor entertainment -- noise from a stereo, television, radio or recordings -- would be allowed from noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 8 p.m. Sundays. Outdoor entertainment would be under the same volume restrictions as live music, according to the ordinance. Violators could be fined as much as $500.

"I don't think the town should differentiate between live music and piped-in music," said Joanie Iaco, a resident who frequents the area in question. "If you're talking about decibels and distance, then the rest of the things don't matter."

Attempts Monday to reach representatives from the Old Town Dispensary, a Calhoun Street tavern that has received most of the complaints, were unsuccessful.

Others feel the restrictions encroach on their rights as property owners.

"I don't like the town trying to dictate what we do on private property," said Charlie Wetmore, a former councilman who manages Moon Mi Pizza in the Calhoun Street Promenade. "If that noise intrudes an inch onto the public area then yes, I agree, turn it down. But don't tell us what we can and can't do."

Town documents say the decision to separate live music from recorded noise reflected the fact that "live entertainment generally includes a larger crowd outdoors and therefore larger crowd noise."

Councilman Ted Huffman said he understands that concept, but "when it comes down to it, it's all the same. If you don't have live music, but it's a noise disturbance, what's the difference?"

Jacob Preston, a Church Street resident who has been an outspoken critic of noise in the Old Town, said the specifics of the ordinance did not bother him. He just wants council to do something.

"If the town can come up with anything at all, it will be better than nothing, which is what it replaces," he said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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