While discussing the city’s noise ordinance Tuesday, the Aspen City Council reached an agreement that it wants to see a louder and livelier downtown core, one that favors “messy vitality” over quiet condominium living.
The majority of council expressed desire to boost allowable volume at night by 50 percent — from 60 decibels to 65 decibels — and extend “nighttime noise” hours from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Neither change is official, as a public hearing is scheduled for June 9. Any approved changes upon final council vote would take effect 30 days after that date.
“Crank it up,” Mayor Steve Skadron said. “The vitality of our downtown is the priority here, not the new-to-date condominiums. They are subordinate in importance to the ability of our local businesses to make a profit.”
Tuesday’s discussion on the noise ordinance stemmed, in part, from a dispute that played out in Aspen Municipal Court in January between the Aspen Brewing Co. and downtown penthouse owners Michael Sedoy and Natalia Shvachko. According to court proceedings, the couple phoned police 23 times between late December 2012 and early September to complain about sounds coming from the East Hopkins Avenue bar. Though the brewer received three separate citations from the city, a six-person jury absolved the restaurant of any wrongdoing.
The council can expect to hear input from other part-time, downtown residents at June’s public hearing, as an individual representing 24 property owners on Monarch Street said they want a chance to weigh in.
In addition to extending hours and noise levels, the council said it wants to change the way police take sound readings. Staff offered the option for “closed building” measurements, meaning police would record inside the complainants’ property with all windows and doors shut.
According to Aspen’s Environmental Health Director C.J. Oliver, “closed door” readings at the Sedoy/Shvachko residence were recorded around 40 and 50 decibels, while “open door” readings came in between 65 and 75. He explained that each 10-decibel increase equates to “double the loudness” and cautioned against any significant volume boosts.
“My concern about 65 is not as much the downtown piece but the adjoining properties and the spillover effect as it goes to unintended places,” Oliver said, referring to Aspen’s lodging and residential districts.
“Louder, longer and livelier” is what Councilman Adam Frisch said, adding that Aspen is not a two-night but a seven-night town. As proposed, the extended hours and decibel levels would be the seven-night rule.
“We’re not a two-day-a-week town, and the people who work and need that sleep — they don’t necessarily need more on Sunday than they do on Friday,” Frisch said.
Councilman Art Daily described himself as a “strong believer in messy vitality.” He said the proposed change to noise readings — which would only require the complainants to shut their doors and windows at the time of the measurement — is a good way to level the playing field between businesses and downtown residents. He added that if a person moves to the downtown, there should be an expectation for noise.
Both council members Ann Mullins and Dwayne Romero expressed interest in keeping the nighttime decibel limit at 60. They also were not in favor of “closed door” readings but agreed with extending the nighttime hours.
“My philosophical meaning is to respect and honor the fun and the action and the vitality that is already in play in the commercial core, and I don’t want to poo-poo any of that,” Romero said.
In comparison, Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte both allow for 60 decibels at nighttime, but their cut-offs are 11 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively.
City Attorney Jim True raised concern that the Colorado Legislature might make the argument that statewide concern overrides local concern, even if Aspen alters its noise ordinance. However, he said he could argue that Aspen has the right to govern its own local regulations.
“My argument is we have that authority under the home-rule charter and the home-rule constitutional provisions,” he said.
The last time Aspen changed its noise ordinance was in 2003, when a 55-decibel limit was bumped up to 60.
“Crank it up. The vitality of our downtown is the priority here, not the new-to-date condominiums.”
Mayor Steve Skadron