A city official is offering caution to the Aspen City Council as it prepares to make changes to the town’s noise ordinance.
In April, the council majority subscribed to a “louder, longer and livelier” Aspen. The changes proposed at the April 22 meeting were to boost allowable volume at night from 60 decibels to 65 decibels and extend “nighttime noise” hours from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Allowable volume during the day is already 65 decibels, so the proposed changes would result in an around-the-clock noise allowance of 65 decibels.
Decibel units are recorded on a logarithmic scale, and a 5-decibel increase equates to a 41 percent increase in perceived loudness. A 10-decibel increase would equate to double the loudness.
In addition to boosting noise levels, the council voiced support for changing the way police record sound readings. The option being considered is “closed-building” measurements, meaning police would record inside the complainants’ property with all windows and doors shut.
Environmental Health Director C.J. Oliver has a few concerns about the proposed changes, which he will present today during a regular meeting.
“If we go this way, we’re kind of going all in right away,” Oliver said Friday. “And I think we’re not taking into consideration the intent of the ordinance which was to protect, to some the level, the public health aspect of not exposing people to excessive noise.”
His concern is that increasing the decibel level, combined with closed-door readings, could result in negative impacts to areas surrounding the downtown core. According to a memorandum to the council, with the proposed changes as written, in order for a noise source to be in violation, it might be in excess of 80 decibels.
Today’s discussion is the first reading on the issue. A second reading, which will include a public hearing and official council vote, will take place at a later date.
Staff has recommended against the closed-door readings, in part because it may not be entirely fair. Oliver said not everyone has the resources to purchase soundproof, or near soundproof, windows and doors.
He added that the intent of the noise ordinance should be to find a balance of interests, what is considered fair and reasonable. According to him, Park City, Utah, has an around-the-clock allowance of 65 decibels. However, Park City prohibits “excessive noise” at night, which can lead to subjective enforcement.
In comparison, Steamboat Springs allows 65 decibels until 11 p.m. Then it’s lowered to 60 decibels. Oliver said he favors pushing nighttime noise hours back from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., but there should be a break in elevated noise levels.
The proposed changes stem, 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.