After an outcry from Beaufort restaurant owners, entertainers and downtown-goers over possible changes to the city’s noise rules, city leaders seem content to leave the issue alone for now.
Police Chief Matt Clancy presented possible changes in January to a packed City Council chambers. The rules, modeled after Charleston’s, would have closed the doors on late-night music and deemed noise heard 50 feet from the closed doors a nuisance.
Current rules allow amplified music from the businesses facing Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Decibel readings from the property line determine rule-breakers.
“I don’t want to tamper with the ordinance,” Councilman Phil Cromer said Monday during a joint meeting with Port Royal Town Council. “... I think we’re going to let a sleeping dog lie and see what happens.”
Beaufort council members quizzed Port Royal on its rules. The town used to rely on decibel levels but now gives more discretion to officers, Port Royal town manager Van Willis said.
The possible Beaufort changes would have required doors and windows be closed on music after 11 p.m. Clancy pitched the changes as easier to understand than the current rules relying on decibel readings.
The noise debate drives a bigger one about balancing the rights of those who want to live downtown with the desire for a thriving nightlife.
Some restaurant owners, musicians and DJs argued that further restrictions and overzealous enforcement will kill business and drive people to Hilton Head Island and Savannah.
Developers supporting changes said high noise levels keep potential residents from living downtown.
Police responded to 15 noise complaints from the Waterfront Park area during 2015, Clancy told City Council. Of those, 10 were initiated by officers on patrol, and five were called in.
Paul Thompson, owner of Panini’s on the Waterfront, said the city’s nightlife already has been in decline, with customers going to other cities where they can stay out later. City leaders need to address residential areas encroaching on commercial ones, he said.
“If we were encroaching into a residential area, that would be a different ball of wax,” Thompson said Tuesday.
Developer Dick Stewart, who has apartment projects on Bay Street, asked the city for fair treatment during the noise debate since it had asked for investment downtown. He said enforcement of the noise ordinance wouldn’t be necessary if those involved acted as “good neighbors,” and he disagreed with the idea the proposed new rules would drive away business.
The January debate closed with a call for civility, asking that those who want to live downtown recognize some level of accompanying activity and businesses be respectful of area residents after a certain hour.
Jason Bailey, co-owner of Q on Bay, said current rules are fair and called on everyone to police themselves.