City passes noise ordinance

Despite a plea from a music promoter who says he'll probably have to cancel some patio shows, the city of Charlottesville amended its noise ordinance tonight to empower police to use mobile sound-meters to clamp down on music over 75 decibels.

"We saw this as one more tool," said City Manager Gary O'Connell, shortly before the unanimous 4-1 vote (Mayor Dave Norris was the dissenter) to stop late night noise from escaping from area clubs and restaurants.

City resident and music promoter Jeyon Falsini had urged the Council not to do anything to harm the city's smaller musical events, which he called "the backbone" of the local music scene.

"Names like Sparky's Flaw and Sons of Bill, they've all been plucked from the small venues in town," said Falsini. "[The ordinance] would seriously impede what is growing to be a large music business in town."

The new ordinance limits sound levels to 75 db(A) when measured outside a restaurant after 11pm. (Update 3/4: The City's top planner Jim Tolbert, clarifies that the new ordinance limits sound levels in the downtown area to 75 db(A) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (the Downtown Business District was subject only to a nighttime restriction of 75 db(A) from 10pm to 6am Sunday through Thursday, and 12:01am to 6am on Friday and Saturday), and from 11pm to 6am (originally 10pm to 6am) in all other parts of the city.)

Tolbert, mentioning the Downtown Mall's existing noise ordinance, told Councilors that simply closing the front door of a venue–- he mentioned Miller's–- typically suffices to reduce outdoor sound levels to the legal level.

"I don't think it will have a negative impact," said Tolbert. "It hasn't on the Mall."

Belmont neighborhood resident Kimber Hawkey called the ordinance "laudable" but also called it "laughable" since the biggest open-air music venue, the Charlottesville Pavilion, because it's neither a residence nor a restaurant, appears exempt from the ordinance, even though it rattles her house. Opera singer Allison Ruffner seconded that complaint.

After the vote, Falsini came back to the lectern to say that he'll probably be forced to cancel the patio shows he has booked under the canopy at Mono Loco restaurant.

21 comments

is it 75dba at the property line for how long a period of time? Does it count if someone opens the door to leave and sound escapes?

a dog barks louder than that. so does a car horn, a bus, car exhaust and morocycles.

I saw this in Denver. The city cannot enforce this law without a warning unless they provide a legal means for the business to check their own levels. They must offer acceptable measurment tools and parameters in order to pass the fairness doctrine. It's going to be an interesting summer.

This is bullshit. Tolbert is fabricating facts. If what he says is true, the Jewish Mother would not have had to shut down. He knows damn well that all it takes is one vocal, persistent Mall resident to bring the heat down on a venue. I'll never forget leaving the Jewish Mother one night and saw the people who owned and lived over a now defunct bookstore (no names, but it rhymes with "Shcmilliams Schnorner Bookstore), standing on the mall in their PJs and robe complaining to the beat cop about the music. And the Jewish Mother's door wasn't open.

The only venue this benefits is the one that makes the most noise BY FAR. Of course, the small local bands who need to play to make rent won't be playing in Capshaw's Tent. This is the kind of thing that keeps Charlottesville from becoming the Austin of the East.

Too bad the city finds music offensive. If this was dog barking I'd say its about time! Unfortunately ALBEMARLE COUNTY continues to ignore negligent dog owners who are too lazy to manage their dog's noise pollution. Maybe one day when the BOS want to tackle something everyone could benefit from, they will face the facts that negligent dog owners should be held accountable for noise pollution. Yep, I'm ranting over dog barking! Give me music over woof any day!

wow, Music Lover! I didn't realize you could use that word here. But now that you have, do you recall anything taking place recently in city government that isn't total bullshit? :)

If that's the case Make Music, Not Noise. The City recognizes it has to balance the wants of the relatively few people who come downtown at night for a couple of hours (not eating that overpriced food and drink) to listen and to the hundreds of people who live down there 24/7 and pay huge amounts in property taxes as well as buy those expensive meals and drinks. The music lovers will fall in love with real music again once they can really hear it. It will be a wonderful re-birth.

I remember the noise coming out of the Jewish Mother on occassion. I was walking behind it on Water Street one night in front of the flat parking lot. The noise was as loud as I the music I play in my home when I have guests. I couldn't figure out where the noise was coming from so I walked up on the Mall. The Mother had its upstairs windows open and the noise was obviously traveling norht, then echoing down 2nd Street to Water Street. It became audible at a comfortable level only after traveling that distance! I remember my music teacher saying once that performers only played loud to cover up the fact that they couldn't play a passage well. There were a whole lot of reasons the Mother went out of business, and they had nothing to do with the music.
I think it's rridiculous for people to expect hundreds of people to lose sleep at night so that one person can earn a living. Move the musicians inside, turn the amps down and let the people listen outside. Simple. Lower volumes allowed thousands of us to enjoy music around town in the seventies and not just the hard of hearing and the stoned.

Absurd. Imposing the same limit across the city so that it's easier for the gestapo to arrest people when they aren't too busy hitting pedestrians in wheelchairs doesn't make sense. The limits should take into account the ambient noise that already exist at a given location.

For example, the ambient noise from traffic is louder than the 75 dB limit they've imposed. The train that runs along water street is probably the loudest thing downtown. Are we going to stop UVa from heating the hospital because the train that takes the coal to the heat plant is too disruptive?

The city council should remember that music is one of the things that entices people downtown in the first place. Last time I checked the draw wasn't overpriced food or the traffic lights you have to suffer through to get there.

It's simple people. Don't like the job the city is doing? Throw the bums out.

Absolutely. Hire a fourth grader with a recorder and watch your sales skyrocket. In fact, the more you pay the fourth grader, the greater your sales.

Speaking as a resident of one of the three apartment buildings located within a block of Mono Loco, and as a resident who long predates patio music at that venue, I'm afraid that Falsini could have at least tried to be a better neighbor. There is no reason on earth that outdoor music on that tiny patio needs to be amplified. I've never called the police and had nothing to do with the ordinance, but have tried on more than one occasion to politely request that the volume of a few midweek shows be decreased after midnight. The employee on the phone invariably laughs. When venues won't work with their neighbors on alleviating a problem, this is what happens. Is the ordinance overkill? Possibly. But so is feeling the need to amplify music meant to be heard in such a small space.

Do you mean to imply that if a restaurant books a live band it will automatically increase its sales?

So if it snows can a restuant use the snowblower since its db rating is 85?

For thousands of years, musicians and singers got along without amplification, and audiences heard them just fine.

Audiences have lost the ability to listen---they can't hear music that isn't amplified, in the same way that they don't register as reality anything that isn't given the stamp of mass media approval. It's a matter of conditioning and social contruction.

I for one will be glad to patronize a venue that is truly acoustic, or lightly amplified.

This is another reason it's sad that the Prism is no more. They went downhill when they caved to the idea that in order to be successful, they had to play on the big stages with the big sound systems. A good hall, like the Paramount or the Jefferson or Old Cabell Hall doesn't need amplification. Most sound better without.

The best music venue is parlor-sized, or chamber-sized.

Go to the Capshaw Tent for any gig---it's obvious that, for the audience, it's not about hearing the music, but about the crowd experience. Last show I saw there was Bonnie Raitt---half of the audience talked loudly through the whole show. When a venue is that badly designed for acoustics, it takes thousands and thousands of dollars in sound reinforcement and engineering to make the noise even resemble music.

Give me a small club any day.

Bingo! If you want to live downtown amid the hustle and bustle, stop whining about the hustle and bustle.

And yes, Sick of the LOocal Rambos, there is very little the City Couincil has accomplished, so there's very little to agree with. But maybe I ougfht to commission one or three consultants to study the issue before I decide not to do anything.

And, yes, boy george, those restaurants will continue doing whatever they're doing, but they will be doing it a little quieter. Where's the harm? Do you really think people will not come to hear a band unless it plays at 90db?

Restaurants are a conduit for they money of others. They don't independantly pay alcohol, sales and other taxes. They take in revenue from people who frequent their establishments and pass on taxes to the government. In that sense, people who live on the downtown mall (as a group) are a huge part of the revenue generated there. People who rent downtown apartments pay higher rent due to the high property taxes that must be passed on to the government. We eat in and shop at the places downtown. We help generate revenue by owning and working in downtown establishments. Both sides of the coin need each other. It would be nice to think that both sides could be respectful to each other.

75 dB is hardly above ambient noise in a restaurant. I'm not advocating that GWAR play a sidewalk cafe concert series in town, but it doesn't make sense that musicians playing a gig on a patio should have to play significantly quieter than the city bus that's dropping off passengers across the street.

Restaurants wouldn't book live music if it didn't result in additional sales (4% of which goes to the city as tax revenue).

We all live here. We all work here. We all pay taxes. Some of us pay our parking fines. Hardly anyone pays to play golf at McIntire Park...

It's reasonable to impose limits, but I think the city could have done better than a half-assed blanket 75 dB.

For sure and certain the Cville city government is one damn joke. They enact a noise ordinance, hoist a damn flag for Tibet, but still have traffic jams all over town because they ignore the true needs of the city.

Doesn't Tolbert live on the mall somewhere? Anyway, this ordinance isn't going to do much. You are still going to have un-amplified street performers out there playing some outrageous BS they call music.

Post traumatic stress syndrome. A little music over a year will help.

Those businesses contribute way more in taxes than the residents do and by default actually subsidize the residents who would have to make up the difference if they were not there. Businesses are responsible for real estate taxes, license fees, alcohol taxes, sales taxes, and provide salaries for all of their employees to pay THEIR taxes. Urban noise is a fact of life. Just like trash trucks and trains. It is only annoying if you let it bother you. I guess next we will have people who live next to a park pass laws that no one can cheer if somebody hits a homerun. The funny part is the residenail homes downtown are some of the most expensive in the city BECAUSE they are near these places.

I can understand Belmont though. That music is way worse than all of the factories that rumlbed around night and day over that way until a few years ago.