Bluffton Town Council should revise the town’s noise ordinance so Calhoun Street neighbors aren’t bothered nearly every night by loud, amplified music from neighboring businesses.
That’s not to say we want Calhoun Street returned to its sleepy status of yesteryear. Bluffton leaders have worked hard to attract businesses and visitors to Old Town. Calhoun Street has blossomed into a vibrant destination for young professionals and others. At a time when many cities are scratching their heads, pondering ways to attract visitors to their restaurants and shops, business is booming in Bluffton’s mixed-use space.
Stifling the area’s development with heavy-handed ordinances — such as requiring a special permit for all outdoor, amplified music as some have suggested — is not the solution.
Instead, Town Council must strike a balance by updating its ordinance, appeasing weary neighbors who say they can’t hear their TVs or sleep because of the noise, while still allowing Calhoun Street businesses to offer live, outdoor music — on a limited basis — that patrons desire.
Town Council should set acceptable volume levels for businesses that offer live music. The best way to enforce it: Equip police with decibel meters so they can fairly and quickly assess volume levels at businesses. Other municipalities in South Carolina have found the meters to be an effective tool in enforcing their noise ordinances.
Bluffton police already have a meter and used it prior to the passage of the current noise ordinance in 2008.
That current noise ordinance does not specify acceptable decibel readings so there’s no need for the meter. Instead, the ordinance prohibits “excessive,” “unnecessary” and “unusually loud” noise. Unfortunately, one person’s definition of “too loud” is another person’s “just right.”
It may also be time to tighten up the times and days outdoor, amplified music is allowed.
Currently, it is prohibited after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and after midnight Friday through Saturday.
Amplified, outdoor music is fine during the weekends when many visitors and residents are out on the town, enjoying the historic district’s offerings.
But residents should not have to endure loud music up until 10 p.m. during the work week. Many neighbors are at their wit’s end, complaining music plays late five or six nights per week. That’s unacceptable.
An earlier cut off time would be appropriate. Businesses wanting to keep the music going could choose to either not amplify it or move it indoors.
Town leaders say they’re taking the problem seriously, and work is underway.
Council has requested the Planning Commission hold a public information hearing on noise next month to learn more from residents, according to Anthony Barrett, town manager. And the police department is conducting surveys with business owners and residents to assess the noise and how big of a problem it is.
We hope a solution is reached soon.
Meanwhile, residents and business owners should get used to compromising on issues that affect their shared space.
Amplified music is likely the first in a series of growing pains for Calhoun Street.