Bluffton Town Council thinks hearing is believing.
The panel tabled a revised noise ordinance at its meeting Tuesday night that would limit how loud and how long outdoor music can be played in all of Bluffton.
Instead, council will visit the Old Town businesses where outdoor music is played and the homes of residents who have complained about what they call excessive noise on Calhoun Street.
Council members hope the visits help them decide on a proper volume before noise law is changed.
"I've come to the conclusion that this is all about volume," Councilman Ted Huffman said, "so it looks like we're going on a field trip."
Before the visits, Matt Jording, co-owner of the Old Town Dispensary, a Calhoun Street tavern at the center of many of the complaints, said he will install volume-controlling speakers.
The $300 devices make it impossible for anyone to turn up the volume other than the software company who control the speakers, Jording said. Every performer would be required to use the speakers, ensuring volume does not get too loud, he said.
"There are nights where we deserve complaints, and there are nights where we don't," he said. "This way we can set a volume and see where it goes."
Jording said his restaurant on Hilton Head Island -- the Sage Room -- has the speakers. He said he did not install them in Bluffton because he doesn't know what volume would be acceptable.
"That's something for council to decide," he said.
Council voted 4 to 1 to table the ordinance, with Fred Hamilton Jr. dissenting.
Mayor Lisa Sulka said no time has been set for the visits.
THE PROPOSED REVISION
Under the revision, outdoor noise would be banned before 10 a.m. and after 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and after 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Current law prohibits such noise after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and after midnight Friday and Saturday.
The ordinance also would require businesses to amend their licenses to allow outdoor entertainment. Those without the outdoor license would be restricted to six outdoor events a year requiring a special-events permit from the town.
During hours that music is allowed, it could not be "plainly audible" from an adjacent property or street. Plainly audible is defined as any sound other than "normal, unaided human conversation."
Bluffton police officers investigating noise complaints "need not determine the title of a song, specific words, or the artist performing the song," the amendment says. Hearing bass would be sufficient.
The revision sparked outrage among some who spoke at Tuesday's standing-room-only meeting.
Some found it anti-business.
"We've said we're going to attract businesses to Bluffton," Julie O'Donnell said during the public comment period. "(Let's not) change our rules after the businesses got here."
Some Old Town residents, on the other hand, felt the proposal addressed the noise issue, and stressed that they did not want to hurt restaurants and bars.
"Those of us who live here only want what we had before the noise started," Dan Wood said. "We've never suggested closing business down."
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.