For months, town of Bluffton leaders have gathered input and considered solutions to late-night noise, particularly outdoor amplified music, on Calhoun Street. But no consensus has been reached, frustrating residents who are enduring the loud noise.
This doesn't have to be a complicated issue that drags on for additional months. Three changes could solve it.
First, we still believe that decibel meters are an important part of the solution, as is evident by their use by municipalities around the country to keep music and other noise in check. We encourage the town to reach out to other towns and determine if their methodology could be replicated in Bluffton. Problems that some council members have raised, such as where police should stand to take a sound reading, can be worked out. Protocols exist.
The meters matter because they give police a reliable, objective measure to determine if noise levels are acceptable. Otherwise, officers are placed in the impossible situation of making a judgment call. Neighbors, trying to sleep, and businesses, enjoying a full house of lively patrons, are certain to disagree.
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The town formerly used a meter, said outgoing council member Mike Raymond, and it helped. "I believe the meter was working," Raymond said at a recent council meeting. "The problem was we continued to get complaints after a reading was taken (by a police officer). So council figured it wasn't working and we came up with the current nuisance ordinance."
The problem is they came up with a vague, subjective ordinance that prohibits "excessive," "unnecessary" and "unusually loud" noise and only allows police to take action if noise persists after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and after midnight Friday through Saturday.
It's time to revise the noise ordinance -- the second change we endorse -- to include acceptable decibel readings, a more limited time frame during which loud noise is allowed and police authority to not only write tickets, but shut off music entirely at stubborn businesses unswayed by fines.
Lastly, town leaders must work with the Old Town Dispensary to bring its noise level down. Town data show that almost half of the 53 noise complaints received this year were directed at the tavern on Calhoun Street.
While its owners have taken steps to control the volume, including installing an insulated acoustic stage to soften noise, it obviously isn't enough. The town and owners must work together to find a better solution. If patrons are getting overly noisy while playing cornhole, a bag-throwing game played on the Dispensary lawn, it may be time to stop offering the game.
Businesses and homeowners can peacefully co-exist in this mixed-use spot. We hope Town Council will play an active role soon in helping them find middle ground.