City officials eye new noise laws
July 4, 2002
Summer’s here, and the time is right for dancing in the street, provided you can get a noise variance.
And chances are, you can.
As Aspen embraces special events to boost the resort’s vibrancy and, hopefully, its economy, the city has grown increasingly lenient about amplified music that requires a variance from its noise ordinance. Now, city officials are wondering if they should just change the ordinance to better jibe with the community’s tolerance for woofers and tweeters.
The city granted noise variances for six events during yesterday’s Fourth of July celebration, including the street dance near Wagner Park; two more have been granted for activities tomorrow.
The Aspen Saturday Market has been granted a variance for live music each week throughout its run.
Following the City Council’s lead when it first granted permission for the Spring Jam at the base of Aspen Mountain to exceed the city’s noise limits on four occasions (this year, 17 days of the Jam received a variance), the city staff has essentially applied a four-day limit throughout town, according to Jannette Whitcomb, the city’s environmental health specialist. Every venue is typically granted up to four noise variances a year, she said.
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It may simply be time to relax the noise ordinance, rather than granting variances, mused Whitcomb, who’s tackling the rewrite of Aspen’s noise laws.
“We’re trying to write an ordinance that reflects the city’s wishes,” she said. “What we need to find out is, does the community want to accept louder noise and at what times.”
Revamping the ordinance means debate on a host of issues, including whether the rules should be relaxed just for special events that are open to the public, or private ones too. Currently, for example, hotels are granted four variances a year for outdoor amplified music for wedding receptions. Should the city lift that limit?
Whitcomb is also exploring whether the city’s noise laws should set a decibel limit, or simply establish parameters on what time of day and night amplified sound is allowed.
Currently, 65 decibels is the standard limit downtown. Variances often grant the ability to hit 100 decibels.
A solo singer with a guitar and an amplifier will exceed 65 decibels, according to Whitcomb. “Sixty-five is a shout,” she said.
Even when an event is granted a noise variance, city police and the Environmental Health Department can pull the plug on a band or tell event organizers to turn down the volume in response to complaints from neighbors. Events rarely generate any complaints, though, Whitcomb said.
Construction noise and leaf blowers are more likely to result in grumbling that reaches the ears of city officials, she said. Those activities, too, are covered by the noise ordinance, as are blaring televisions and radios, bullhorns, motorcycles and restaurant speakers that pipe music to outdoor seating areas, among a host of other sources of “noise.”
Whitcomb appeared before the city’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission this week to seek its input on downtown sound.
CCLC member John Starr voiced his displeasure with recorded music directed outside from downtown businesses.
“I find it just doesn’t add to the Aspen experience,” he said. “I don’t mind live music . it’s the canned music that does nothing for me and, I think, does nothing for the community.”
Commission member Terry Butler called for a crackdown on early-morning trash pickup and construction, and late-night music – the kinds of noise that disturb guests at her downtown hotel.
“I want vitality, but I want it during waking hours. I don’t want it at 7 a.m. and I don’t want it at 11 at night,” she said. “Special events – I think that’s a different ballgame. If you know it’s going to be once in a while, you can deal with it.”
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]