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Ambiguity stifles noise ordinance

It’s been more than four months since the City Council discussed an ordinance that would limit the amount of evening noise around town, but all has been quiet ever since.

Members of the city staff continue to canvass details for the ordinance, although it’s unlikely that anything will be resolved soon.

“We do not want to put this ordinance in front of the City Council until we feel we have a solid ordinance that we can rely on,” City Attorney Dave Olsen said. “We’re just trying to get a handle on what kind of ordinance it will take in order to be fair to everybody involved.”

During a meeting in December, council members discussed the issue for about 30 minutes with various department heads. By meeting’s end, the council said ambiguity and several unanswered questions within the ordinance’s context forced it to hold off on a vote.

It was the first significant attempt to updating the city’s noise code, which has been in place since the Kennedy administration.

A central reason for updating the code was because, in large part, of the downtown district’s immense growth in the past decade, city officials said.

“This has caused problems for some of the residents who live on the outskirts of the downtown area,” Olsen said at the Dec. 9 meeting. “The police department has spent a lot of time dealing with these noise complaints.”

The ordinance presented to the council in December prohibits “unreasonable noise” from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. It also prohibits the use of any sound amplification device from a residential or public property that can be heard at least 75 feet away from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday through Thursday.

However, that beginning hour would be extended to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Grant Turner, owner of the Dillinger Food and Drinkery and Forge Social House, said the proposed noise ordinance would prohibit Boulder City from establishing an identity as a destination town once Interstate 11 is completed.

“Do you want us to be a sleepy town where people aren’t going to go out of their way to visit for nightlife, or do you maybe want to compromise a little bit and be more of a destination for those cars that are no longer going to be passing by?” he said. “With the bypass coming through, it’s more important than ever that we get Boulder City as a destination.”

But Helene Vece, who lives about 100 feet from the Forge Social House, said she’s had numerous complaints about the music’s volume and has even filed complaints with the city. A few months ago, her house was shaking from the noise, she added.

“The noise is getting really excessive. It doesn’t stop,” Vece said. “I want them to succeed next door, but certainly there has to be a middle ground here where they’re happy and our neighbors are happy.”

Vece said she’s spoken with Councilwoman Peggy Leavitt about the issue, and has done her own research by looking at other noise ordinances across the country with cities that share a similar demographic to Boulder City. She said she is hopeful the city can come to an agreement that would be beneficial for everyone involved.

Olsen said the city has studied more than a dozen noise ordinances across the country to help draft the best code possible. He and Police Chief Bill Conger still bounce ideas off each other, he added.

In 2011, the city council of Basalt, Colo., a town 20 miles from Aspen with a population of about 3,900, voted to approve a noise ordinance that would allow bars and restaurants to play live music until 10 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday, according to the Aspen Times. Those hours were extended until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

But after one successful vote, the city council later shot it down the second time around, citing that it would take away a part of the town’s identity.

Olsen said the city has deliberated the possibility of extending the evening hours for the new ordinance. Still, he said it’s important not to rush anything.

The ability to gauge just how loud noises really are, as well as the consequences for those who break the rule must be thorough within the new rule, he said.

“Judges prefer something a little more concrete. We want this to be solid. We don’t want to get in front of a judge who says, ‘Your language is ambiguous,’ ” he said.

Olsen added that there is no timetable in place for when the updated ordinance will be presented to the council.

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at sslivka@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSlivka.

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