Bluffton Council says live, outdoor music can play every day, just not so loud

dburley@islandpacket.comMarch 11, 2014 

Members of Bluffton Town Council convene on a Saturday night in February 2014 at the Old Town Dispensary to listen as the band Harden and Cranshaw played. The field trip was held to find out first-hand what the volume level of live music is at the bar. Later, the council walked around the area to gauge how far the sound traveled.


    • Voted to outlaw large trucks in the historic district. The ordinance change prohibits big rigs from using May River and Bluffton roads between U.S. 278 and S.C. 170, Bridge Street and Bruin Road. The ban includes dump trucks, semitrailers or any truck "designed, used or maintained for the transportation of material" that is not in the district for delivery or pickup, according to town documents. It does not include vans, pickup trucks or public buses.
    • Gave preliminary approval to town code changes that make the Planning Commission the sole reviewer of architectural designs for development along some of the town's busiest roads. The changes also increase the professional requirements to be on the Historic Preservation Commission; allow those who live or work outside the historic district to become historic board commissioners; and create a historic board subcommittee to speed up the review process.
    • Authorized the town to pay $291,500 for seven 2014 Ford SUVs for the Bluffton Police Department and one mower for the public works department.

Residents and business owners who want live, outdoor music to remain as everyday entertainment in Bluffton got their wish granted by Town Council. But those who want such music played at a lower volume left Tuesday night's meeting less than pleased.

Council gave preliminary approval to a proposal that restricts how loud and how often music can be played outdoors.

Under the ordinance change, live music or amplified outdoor entertainment could be no louder than 60 decibels -- the volume of chatter in a restaurant -- when measured 250 feet from the source. The noise would be allowed from noon to 10 p.m. daily.

Violators would be subject to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.

The panel, however, did not impose a stricter provision that would have limited live music to three nights a week while other outdoor entertainment -- radio, television, stereo -- could be broadcast any day.

The vote was 3-to-2, with Councilman Fred Hamilton and Councilwoman Karen Lavery dissenting.

"If we're going to allow music anyway, and as long as the decibel reading is maintained, I don't see the difference" between recorded and live music, Councilman Ted Huffman said.

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

Business owners and local musicians who say they earn their living in part from the revenue outdoor music brings said they were happy with the council's decision Tuesday.

"We're just happy to get a little support," said Matt Jording, co-owner of the Old Town Dispensary, a tavern on Calhoun Street that has received most of the noise complaints.

"I'm glad council decided to finally see what (music) means," said Mike Raymond, a former councilman who plays music regularly at Calhoun Street restaurants.

Those who have complained about noise in Old Town didn't appear to have a problem with what days live, outdoor music should be allowed. Instead, they disliked the volume and the distance the Bluffton Police Department will use to determine whether the noise violates law.

Harper Finucan, who lives on Lawrence Street, about 100 feet from the Dispensary, said 250 feet is too great a distance from which to measure.

"Are we to suffer the consequences of not being outside 250 feet?" he said to council.

Some council members agreed.

Lavery said she would rather noise be limited to 45 decibels and measured 150 feet from the source.

"We need to do something more to help out" Finucan, she said.

A final vote will come at the panel's April 8 meeting.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at

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