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City to follow state noise ordinance
Commence rocking out — but make sure it’s within the city’s new standards.
Sequim City councilors repealed the city’s 1997 noise ordinance on March 10 while voting down a revision to the municipal code.
Sequim based its proposed revision on Bremerton’s noise ordinance, which was based on the state’s ordinance. However, much of the state ordinance is similar to the proposed revision. A violation for offenders still costs $100 per day not in compliance and allowed decibel levels are the same.
“It doesn’t effect change on anyone,” City Attorney Craig Ritchie said. “It’s already the law.”
The repealed code was too subjective for enforcement, Ritchie said, and violation’s didn’t seem fair with two separate complaints resulting in a violation without any unit of measure.
Under the state ordinance, one residence cannot be louder than 55 decibels and heard from more than 50 feet away. Commercial businesses can be slightly louder for residences at 57 decibels but after 10 p.m. all homes and businesses must 10 decibels lower than daytime hours.
Ritchie said 55 decibels is similar to the sound of a 200-watt generator.
For a measurable solution, Chris Hugo, director of community development, said they are going to buy a handheld sound level meter, incident calibrator station and wind meter for about $1,000 with an annual $200 calibration fee and an unknown amount for staff training.
He plans to purchase the devices in the coming weeks and do tests before using it when a complaint is filed. It’ll be housed in the Sequim Police Department for officers use and Code Compliance Officer Lisa Hopper will check it out as needed.
Hugo nor Police Chief Bill Dickinson said they are looking for noise violators and the process is complaint driven.
Dickinson said the meter gives police a standard for officers.
“It was somewhat uncomfortable for us to judge what is unreasonable,” he said. “When you have 6,700 residents then we have 6,700 views. It’s kind of hard to find that balance.”
Police will keep the same procedures with noise complaints with asking offenders to turn it down before seeking enforcement.
“Seems like a happy way to deal with it,” Dickinson said. “If it doesn’t work, the ability to levy a fine is the only reasonable way to gain compliance. Asking the source to desist or reduce it to a more palatable level most of the time works.”
Musicians and neighbors speak up
Dickinson alluded to former establishments Krush and Mugs & Jugs as common places for complaints since they were near residences but police never issued a fine.
One alleged offender, Jonathon Promer, spoke to city councilors about playing with his band Jack Havoc in his garage and how he has tried to respect neighbors.
Promer said being in a band has helped him and his bandmates stay out of trouble.
“If it goes through, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t want to feel bullied out of my own city,” he said.
James Martin, who lives across from Promer, said his windows rattle when Promer plays drums and that their neighbors have mostly moved in recent years.
“The music was so dense, you couldn’t move without a rumbling in your ears,” he said. “I’ve been in touch with Lisa Hopper but she told me she couldn’t do something without a noise meter.”
Others spoke against the ordinance such as Jonathan Simonson, who said at his former music venue he saw a lot of change in youth who played music. He encouraged councilors to allow for a place for young musicians to play.
Annie Vorhies said the city could lose youth to drugs or another city without allowing music. She and her husband also have considered buying a business to start a music venue, but they’d consider leaving, too.
Jennifer States, co-owner of Wind Rose Cellars, said the noise ordinance concerns her because they see most of their business on nights with live music.
“If enforced, it could have a huge impact,” she said.
Half of the city council shared some sympathies for the musicians.
Mayor Candace Pratt, Ken Hays and Genaveve Starr voted down the revised noise ordinance 3-3 with Dennis Smith absent.
Most of the council, aside from Erik Erichsen, voted 5-1 to repeal the existing ordinance for its lack of definition for a violating noise and ability to prosecute.
Erichsen said he’s been on the other side of noise complaints living near Krush.
“These people were elderly people who wore hearing aids. There’s no way that they could sleep at night. They were becoming agitated,” he said.
In reference to the states’ decibel levels, Erichsen finds them reasonable.
“Just because some bands feel their rights are being taken away from them isn’t necessarily true,” he said. “What we’re saying is that they must meet these levels. We don’t know if they are meeting it.”
He encouraged the city to follow the signs code and move ahead and make changes later.
“Let’s do something that’s 90 percent agreeable and go ahead and find those situations it’s not workable. Then staff can come back and say these things are not reasonable,” he said.
Councilor Laura Dubois said the proposed ordinance was much clearer than the former code.
“If you’re asked by your neighbors and in a residential area, you can turn it down or find another venue, which is tough on a tight budget but we have to do what’s best for everyone,” she said.
Not all councilors were sold on using a decibel meter.
“We might be creating a tool for a small handful of people to use aggressively against others for reasons that are entirely fair because we do have this tool, a decibel meter that can be employed,” Hays said.
“What is a reasonable threshold? In light of what we heard tonight, it might be more precise but even more precise for a few unhappy people to work their minority opinion.”
Starr said she wants residents to pursue their efforts creatively unbothered.
“I don’t want to discourage businesses or people who make their livelihood from sound,” she said.
The city council will review officially stopping the old ordinance at its March 24 meeting.
Promer said he felt good about the city council’s decision.
“They will soon see that the meter is not as ‘fool proof’ as they think,” he said.
He added that he plans to continue sound proofing his garage for a peaceful compromise.
“I appreciate everyone’s efforts, it seemed a battle between old values and new points of view, but we are a community and must learn to work together,” Promer said.
States said the city’s decision is a good step forward.
“Now we can actually see what would the decibels mean,” she said.