Unanimous vote: City Council lowers nighttime noise law to 55dB
Just five months after lowering the limit from 75 to 65 decibels, City Council voted unanimously Monday to lower the late-night noise level restaurants are allowed to emit to 55 decibels.
The August 16 action brought a wave of applause in the first row of City Council Chambers; and it came despite the recent demise of the Belmont neighborhood restaurant that had been responsible, according to Council's discussion, for 100 percent of the recent sound complaints.
According to a city report, the recent noise complaints were rendered moot–- though certainly not mute–- because the readings measured the offending noise at an average of 58 decibels, which is above the new limit. Something that was recently rendered both moot and mute was Bel Rio restaurant, which inexplicably went out of business in July.
Bel Rio, and a predecessor restaurant at that site called Saxx Jazz Club, featured musical performances on a small stage with thumping bass that disturbed the sleep of many Belmont neighbors who waged a long-running campaign to enact a stricter noise ordinance. When the 65dB limit was first debated in February, many seemed wary of the 55dB level.
Back then, Councilors heard from Jim Baldi, the owner of Bel Rio, who said that a man with a decibel meter found that merely opening the door to the City Council chambers registered 62 decibels. Since then, however, Baldi's star has fallen, as he's vanished amid an Albemarle police investigation that includes an arrest warrant for him on an embezzlement charge
The only City Councilor to express much reservation about Monday's sound clampdown was David Brown, who said it seemed like a "broad tool to deal with one particular business." Mayor Dave Norris noted that a recent code redefinition amounts to a ban on nightclubs (which the zoning code calls "music halls") and may actually bring more benefit for noise-averse residents. Nonetheless, Norris joined the other four Councilors in amending the noise ordinance.
The law only applies to sounds emitted from 11pm to 6am in the so-called Neighborhood Commercial Corridors, which currently exist only in the Belmont and Fontaine neighborhoods.
In another closely-watched issue, Council also unanimously voted to ban panhandling near the two automobile crossings over the Downtown Mall. During a public comment session, the Council heard from Downtown Business Association Director Bob Stroh, who favored the ordinance in the name of safety. The Council also heard from recent City Council candidate Paul Long, who opposed the ordinance in the name of freedom.
One thing that came up just moments before the panhandling vote is that the amended ordinance–- which now bans any solicitation within 50 feet of the crossings at 2nd Street West and 4th Street East when they're open for traffic–- will actually ban musical busking in those areas. That was zoning director Jim Tolbert's interpretation, yet all five Councilors nonetheless voted their support for the ban.
After the vote, a man stood up to blast the move as an attack on the society's unfortunate. "It is only going to be enforced against the very poor people," said the man. "They have every right to be there and solicit contributions. I am more than disappointed; I am angry."
Councilor Satyendra Huja then defended that vote, as did Holly Edwards, the latter of whom cited a Biblical passage and pointed out that this Council has enacted several measures aimed at bolstering human livelihoods in the hope of obviating the need to beg.
In other actions Monday, the Council appropriated funds for new police cruisers, a set of nine Ford Crown Victorias to be purchased from Crossroads Motors of Virginia, Inc., which won a recent bidding process with a price of $225,400–- or $25,044 each.
The Council also enacted a new slate of building code fees including $400 to gain a temporary certificate of occupancy, $100 to petition the Building Code Board of Appeals, and a fee equal to double the normal building permit fee after a contractor has been hit with a stop-work order.
Finally, the Councilors voted to repeal 50 percent of the increased property tax from a planned $20 million downtown development by Waterhouse LLC. Designed by architect Bill Atwood and marketed by Great Eastern Management, the project was envisioned as the new home for Worldstrides travel company. Criticism has already been aired in the Daily Progress for a development which merely lures workers from Albemarle County into Charlottesville. Nobody spoke out against the special grant to a private business, and Council unanimously approved the the tax repeal, which will last for five years.
– story updated 9:03am Tuesday, August 17 with photo and a little more background on noise law