Noise-limit talks are on the horizon
January 18, 2014
The city of Aspen's Environmental Health Department will try to schedule a City Council work session sometime in late February or early March to discuss potential changes to the municipal noise ordinance, the department's director said Thursday.
C.J. Oliver said the jury's not guilty verdicts in Wednesday's Aspen Municipal Court trial involving a local bar's alleged violations of noise regulations appear to signal a community desire to allow downtown nightspots to go beyond the 60-decibel limit that kicks in after 9 p.m. Prior to 9 p.m., the limit is 65 decibels.
"What I would like to do is have adequate time for the council to analyze their choices, make a decision and give us some direction," Oliver said. "Then we can complete that work and bring it back to them and have whatever changes we are looking at — if there are changes — implemented by the busy summer season."
Most of the complaints that led the city to issue citations against Aspen Brewing Co. — phoned to police by a couple that owns a penthouse next door to the brewery's tasting room in the Restaurant Row area of East Hopkins Avenue — occurred in late summer 2013, according to information presented at the trial. The city uses decibel meters to determine whether a business or individual is exceeding the limit.
Testimony offered by defense witnesses suggested that the meter-reading system is flawed because there is no way to block out sound from other noise-making sources in the vicinity of the target of the complaint. The six-person jury took about 10 minutes to decide that the city had not proven its case against the brewing company, whose tasting room regularly offers live music.
"I'm looking forward to the work session," Mayor Steve Skadron said. "I think the verdict was a statement about preserving a core value. And that value is downtown vibrancy. That vibrancy is rooted in a desire for a certain lifestyle downtown which I think fits the profile of a ski town in the mountains."
He said he hasn't reflected on the specifics of how the ordinance could be changed. Oliver said his department would study the issue and provide council members with various options to consider at the work session. The department probably won't give the council a recommendation — the elected officials will set the tone for potential noise-ordinance revisions, he said.
Skadron, who watched portions of the trial, said that penthouse owners in the city's commercial core have a different view of downtown life from the community at large and visitors. But an active downtown area with abundant nightlife is key to Aspen's future, he said.
The idea that penthouse development does not promote downtown vitality was a factor behind a council ordinance passed one year ago that limits new developments to no more than two stories except when a developer proposes a third-story lodging use on the north side of a street. Some developers, however, filed applications for downtown projects with penthouse components before the council acted, and those applications are starting to make their way through the city's review process.
That means that more downtown penthouses are likely to be built in the near future.
Councilman Adam Frisch said the council didn't necessarily need the jury verdict to proceed with changes to the noise ordinance, but he added that it doesn't hurt.
"I think we need to adjust the maximum noise levels higher," Frisch said. "And we need to move the time (at which the maximum level is decreased) from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m."
Frisch said he would like to see a discussion about creating an "entertainment district" in the downtown area. The district would provide special zoning designations for certain areas with a high concentration of bars and restaurants.
"I don't want to get into spot zoning, but there's a couple of blocks that always have been, and will be, a little livelier than other parts of downtown," he said. "I'm a huge supporter of making sure we have a lively downtown core."
Neither Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Art Daily nor Councilwoman Ann Mullins could be reached for comment Thursday.