Jury trial over bar noise set for Wednesday
January 15, 2014
An Aspen Municipal Court trial over violations of the city's noise ordinance will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday with the selection of members for a six-person jury.
The case pits the city against Aspen Brewing Co., which was cited twice in August and once in September because musicians playing inside the brewery's East Hopkins Avenue tasting room allegedly exceeded the noise limit, which is 60 decibels after 9 p.m. The company itself — not the servers or musicians who were working at the time of the supposed infractions — is the target of the citations.
In all three situations, either local police or city Environmental Health Department staff measured the noise with a decibel meter in response to complaints from a nearby couple. Police records show that Michael Sedoy and Natalia Shvachko, who reside in a penthouse in the Ute City building next to the space that houses that second-floor tasting room, called authorities several times during 2013 to complain about alleged noise violations at Aspen Brewing Co. and other nightspots in the area.
The trial was supposed to take place in October but was postponed to January because a witness had a scheduling conflict.
Debbie Quinn, assistant city attorney, will prosecute the case on the city's behalf. She declined to comment Monday, except to say that the trial would commence Wednesday morning.
Aspen Brewing Co. owner Duncan Clauss said he will be represented at trial by Aspen attorney Lucas Van Arsdale, of Balcomb & Green P.C., which is based in Glenwood Springs.
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Clauss has pleaded not guilty to the three violations, each of which could result in a penalty of up to $2,650, according to the city's recently modified fine structure. Until August, the maximum fine for a violation of city code was $1,000, but the City Council agreed to raise it so that Aspen could conform its municipal fine structure with the state's.
Clauss said he's hoping for a favorable outcome to the trial. He has received an outpouring of support in recent months from many Aspenites who believe the city's 60-decibel noise limit in the downtown area is antiquated and should be changed to reflect a vibrant commercial scene.
Critics of the noise ordinance have pointed out that 60 decibels can be reached or exceeded by two people talking over dinner.
"I hope we aren't found guilty," Clauss said. "We're not going to bat for changing the noise ordinance through our court case — it's just two different issues. But I am definitely in favor of the noise ordinance being looked at, and I think our case has implications on that and implications on other bars and restaurants downtown."
Clauss said downtown restaurants and bars won't be able to stay in business if they continue to be cited for violating the 60-decibel limit after 9 p.m. Prior to 9 p.m., the limit is 65 decibels.
City environmental health director C.J. Oliver will be a witness for the city at the trial, in part because of his knowledge of the noise ordinance.
He said his department had planned to schedule a council work session last fall to discuss potential changes to the maximum volume levels but decided to wait until the outcome of the trial. He said the "court of local opinion" probably will weigh in on the matter as well, once the trial has concluded.
"Council doesn't necessarily need all of that to make a decision, but I think the more input they have then the better off they are in a decision-making capacity on something like this," Oliver said.