Council votes to limit noise, but not enough for some Bluffton residents

dburley@islandpacket.comApril 8, 2014 

  • In other business, council:

    • Gave preliminary approval to a building code change allowing parking lots and garages to be built in Old Town. The extra spaces would help ease traffic and parking problems caused by an increased number of visitors, according to town documents
    • Approved changes to town code 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 commission members; and create a historic board subcommittee to speed up the review process.

Nights in Old Town should be quieter from now on.

After months of deliberation, Bluffton Town Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an amendment that restricts how loud and how long music can be played outdoors.

Under the amended noise ordinance, live music or amplified outdoor entertainment can be no louder than 50 decibels -- the volume of a quiet conversation at home -- 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.

But some residents said the changes don't go far enough.

"Nobody should have to endure a nuisance that is not their own creation but from an adjacent property," former mayor Emmett McCracken said before the vote. "If we don't fix this, we can quit talking about quality of life in Old Town."

Council members made it clear the change was a first step in what could be a lengthy refining process.

"If anybody is happy with this ordinance, we've done the wrong thing," Councilman Ted Huffman said. "But I think it gives police the tools to enforce. We need to get a law on the books."

Since last summer, the town has searched for a remedy to concerns about late-night noise, particularly outdoor amplified music, from bars and restaurants on Calhoun Street.

Matt Jording, co-owner of the Old Town Dispensary, a tavern on Calhoun Street that has received most of the noise complaints, has said his bar has taken measures to quiet the noise, including a sound-control device that limits the volume.

He said Tuesday he would continue to work with police to control noise, especially bass, which cannot be effectively measured with a decibel meter.

Harper Finucan said he lives on Lawrence Street, 150 feet from the Dispensary.

Tuesday's changes, he fears, won't help him.

Council did not approve a looser provision that would have allowed music to play at 60 decibels -- the volume of chatter in a restaurant -- when measured 250 feet from the source.

Councilwoman Karen Lavery, who suggested changing the allowed volume to 50 decibels, assured Finucan after the meeting that the effort to lessen Old Town noise "isn't over yet."

"Do I like music? Absolutely," she said during the meeting. "Do I like what's going on in Old Town? Absolutely not."

She said she plans next month to introduce an amendment that would outlaw bass and drums outdoors.

Council's next meeting is at 6 p.m. May 13 at Town Hall, 20 Bridge St.

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

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