Bellingham’s New Noise Ordinance: A Step In the Right Direction

On December 6, at 7:00 p.m., Bellingham City Council members will vote on the creation of entertainment districts designed to simultaneously protect musicians/venues from noise complaints and downtown residents from excessive noise.

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2010/12/05/1753023/bellingham-noise-ordinance-for.html#ixzz17MnCExvQ

Under the ordinance, the council would officially create entertainment districts downtown and in Fairhaven.  It also would make a basic declaration recognizing that music venues “add to the vibrancy and economic vitality” of the city.  Then it directs police, in considering noise complaints, to assess the issue using various criteria like (1) time of day the complaint occurs; (2) duration and volume of sound; (3) the nature of the sound; and (4) the character of the business or industry from where the sound originates.

Members of the Bellingham Downtown Alliance for Music and Nightlife said the law contains some “very promising elements” and that it was exciting the council would be making an official declaration about the importance of music and nightlife to the city.  The group also wants the city to require landlords to disclose to potential tenants in the entertainment districts that they’d be living in an area with higher volumes of noise at later hours.

My opinion?  I live downtown.  There are three  noisy nightclubs/bars in my neighborhood.  They attract a noisy crowd, especially on the weekends.  However, I moved into this area knowing the noise existed.  Indeed, I welcomed it (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; if you can’t take the heat then get out of the kitchen, yadda yadda . . .).

The police and the City have cowed to the complaints of local citizens and businesses who can’t handle urban noise.  Indeed, mere months ago, Plan B Lounge closed down due to the excessive complaints of one neighbor (1!) who lived above the lounge and stated he couldn’t sleep because of the noise.  The City found in his favor and determined that Plan B must install soundproofing, and/or decrease the music.  The owners chose to leave.  Another local business bit the dust.  What a loss!  Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I’m in favor of the ordinance.  Police must now apply specific criteria in determining whether the noise ordinance is violated.  They can no longer make arbitrarty and capricious decisions (it’s more difficult, anyway).  Good.  Let’s make standards and apply them fairly.  Otherwise, musicians and venues will continue face Disorderly Conduct charges for merely expressing themselves.