COLUMBIA — A proposed change in the city’s noise ordinance would greatly loosen the restrictions on loud music and yelling in the downtown area.
The proposed changes would make noise from music and yelling illegal downtown between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. if it can be heard from 300 feet away and it disturbs the peace of a residence. The distance would be 500 feet from the property during the day. Police have discretion to determine whether the noise disturbs the peace.
The rule currently in place prohibits such noise 100 feet away during the day and 50 feet at night.
The amended ordinance would not affect any area except downtown.
The ordinance is in part a reaction to the ongoing dispute between Shiloh Bar and Grill at Broadway and Fourth Street and its cross-street neighbor about the level of noise coming from the bar late at night. This dispute led Shiloh owner Tom Atkinson to construct an 8-foot plywood wall on the side of its property that faces Broadway. The wall has been discussed by two city commissions and is the subject of a letter from the Historic Preservation Commission asking the city to address the issue.
City Manager Bill Watkins said the proposed changes are an attempt to address the “root of the problem” with the Shiloh wall. Watkins said the proposed amendments to the ordinance were initiated by the owners and managers of Shiloh.
Watkins said the City Council wanted the issue discussed because “there was a concern there was an ordinance that perhaps was inconsistent with some of the goals we’ve outlined for downtown and that it needed updating.”
The ordinance was drafted by the city’s law department and was sent to the Special Business District board of directors for comment last week. Mary Wilkerson, the board chairwoman, said the board has established a committee that will meet in the next few weeks to discuss the proposal. The board has yet to form an opinion on the bill.
Watkins also said the changes would not go before the council until the Special Business District has had a chance to weigh in.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, who runs Ragtag Cinema on Hitt Street and whose ward includes downtown, said in an e-mail that he thinks the ordinance could be good for downtown.
“These distances make some sense,” he said. “Not too strict but certainly enough to rein in some of the more obnoxious incidents.”
Sturtz said people should be aware that downtown is not a typical residential neighborhood and that it will be “quite a bit noisier.” He also said the amended ordinance could be written to include a period of the early morning when the distances for allowable noise would be reduced.
Rick Rother owns a building across Broadway from Shiloh where he operates his physical therapy business. He has lived there for 16 years with his wife, Kimi, and said the city should not ease the restrictions on noise downtown.
He said he and his wife cannot sleep on some nights, especially after football games, and that there are more problems than just the volume of noise from Shiloh.
“This is not just a noise issue, it’s a noise and nuisance issue,” Rother said, adding that he often finds urine, broken bottles and cans around his building, as well as other trash and damage to his building. He said he has to clean it up himself.
Rother said the sound level at Shiloh has improved but the wall makes no difference. He said he thinks Shiloh has been trying to stay quieter, but the noise carries over the wall to his second-story apartment and remains a nuisance.
“I’m just a guy who wants to get my sleep at night,” he said.
Lance Wood, general manager of Flat Branch Pub and Brewing on *Fifth Street, said the changes in the ordinance would not affect the business.
“It doesn’t really apply to us,” he said. “We don’t really do live music outside, and we’re a pretty quiet, sedate crowd.”
Wood also said he doesn’t know if the amended ordinance would be good or bad.
“The old one wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t being enforced,” Wood said. “I can tell you that on a lot of weekends the noise between Shiloh’s and Bengals was a lot noisier than (50 feet), and we could sometimes hear it better than our music.”
Aside from the noise issue, the Historic Preservation Commission and the Downtown Leadership Council discussed the appearance of the unpainted plywood wall outside Shiloh. The downtown council took no action, but the preservation commission approved a letter asking the city to seek a “permanent solution” that involved removing the wall at Shiloh, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This temporary structure is inappropriate for a historic building in both its material and application,” the letter said. “Unpainted particleboard is not acceptable in this setting.”
But John Sudduth of the city's Protective Inspections Division said the wall violates no city ordinance.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty,” he said. “It just has to be safe and follow the 2006 International Property Maintenance Code.”
Shiloh Bar and Grill management has repeatedly declined to talk about the issue.