COLUMBIA — A proposal to loosen the noise ordinance downtown got an unfavorable review by the Special Business District Board on Tuesday.
The members unanimously approved a report to the city manager that said the proposal in its current form makes the ordinance unenforceable and does not solve the problem. City Manager Bill Watkins has said he will send the proposal to the City Council after considering the board's recommendations.
The 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. The rule currently in place prohibits noise 50 feet away at night and 100 feet during the day.
The proposed ordinance is largely a reaction to a dispute between Shiloh Bar and Grill and its residential neighbor about the noise from the bar late at night. The dispute has also led Shiloh, at the intersection of Broadway and Fourth Street, to construct an 8-foot plywood wall facing Broadway.
The three reasons the report said the board does not support the ordinance are:
- The proposed changes would not resolve the issue between Shiloh and its residential neighbor.
- Changing the distance or hours related to noise in the ordinance would not be enough to resolve the issue.
- There are other approaches that can be utilized to help resolve the dispute, such as mediation.
Board member John Ott, who sat on the noise ordinance committee, said he wanted to see more research about how other communities have dealt with noise issues in similar areas, where there are both residences and businesses.
The board also didn’t like that the ordinance only affects the downtown area, because it is not the only place where residences and businesses are close. Ott said bars in other areas should have the same rules as those downtown.
The board said the ordinance was too vague. They said the wording might make enforcement difficult, citing the rule that a noise must be “plainly audible at a distance of 300 feet” in order to be unlawful.
“Plainly audible? What’s that?” board member Mark Timberlake said. He said he wants to make the law more easily enforceable by using more specific language.
Timberlake also said the ordinance should not require a complaint in order for a noise to be declared unlawful, which would allow officers to take an active role in stopping excessive noise.
Carrie Gartner, the Special Business District director, said the changes do not address the complex issues in the dispute between Shiloh and its neighbor that sparked the proposal.
“I still see that there’s a conflict between a bar and a resident in this, and the proposed ordinance doesn’t make that go away,” she said.
Rosie Gerding, who lives about 300 feet from Shiloh, said she has had occasional problems with the noise from Shiloh but said it is not a consistent issue. She cited one recent incident where a band was playing outside at Shiloh until 1 a.m., which she said could be heard in her home. But she doesn’t think that’s the worst of the problem.
“The annoyances are the drunk people screaming, and the bars can’t help that,” she said.
The board’s report also suggested the ordinance consider having different rules for weekends than weekdays and that the ordinance call for some kind of mediation when there is an ongoing sound dispute.