Opinions differ on downtown Aspen noise
May 8, 2014
Both Karen Day and Mari Peyton have lived in downtown Aspen for 32 years. Day lives in a condominium adjacent to Rubey Park Transit Center, next to McDonald's, while Peyton lives in an apartment on the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall.
Both are aware of ambient noise coming from the mall, particularly from the Red Onion, where local musicians gather for weekly open-mic nights. They're also both aware of the Aspen City Council's desire to boost allowable noise levels and extend nighttime noise hours, with an official vote expected in June. But Day and Peyton differ on what they'd like to see from the vote's outcome.
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. The couple phoned police 23 times between late December 2012 and early September 2013 to complain about sounds coming from the East Hopkins Avenue bar. Although the brewer received three separate citations from the city, a six-person jury absolved the restaurant of any wrongdoing.
Peyton — a former member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and an Aspen Times proofreader for 20 years, who retired after selling her wholesale tour operation to Ski.com — is disappointed with council members. She said they are acting on the assumption that all downtown residents are "spoiled, newcomer" billionaires living in penthouses.
"That is not the case," Peyton said, adding that she knows plenty of others like her who have worked hard to make the core their home. "This one couple has created a mess for all of us."
Day said that noise is the price she pays for living in the core. When she moved here, she had a parking space for her Rubey Park condo, where she and her late husband, Sterling Greenwood, published the Aspen Free Press.
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"There's so many benefits to living downtown that it's not fair for me to complain about any noise at all," said Day, who retired after running her own interior-design business.
For Jesse Wey, co-owner of The Square Grouper, a restaurant adjacent to the Aspen Brewing Co., upping the decibel level is a move that has been a long time coming.
"It's a call that should have been made a while ago, especially given the nature of this block," he said, speculating that the lobby of the Pitkin County Library can get louder than the city's allowable volume. "The decibel level was far too low to begin with."
Peyton would like to see the noise ordinance kept as is, while Day said she is OK with all of the proposed changes. The majority of the council's desire is 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. A 10-decibel increase equates to "double the loudness," according to Environmental Health Director C.J. Oliver.
The council also expressed interest in changing the way police take sound readings, which Peyton takes issue with. If approved, police would conduct "closed building" measurements, meaning all windows and doors would need to be shut at the time of the reading.
"The reading when your windows are open is the reading that affects the people, not the reading when it's in an artificial situation," Peyton said. "Nobody can keep their doors and windows shut in the summer. They're not going to be able to breathe."
Peyton has spoken with others who share her opinion, saying that even people living on the perimeter to the downtown core have trouble sleeping at night with the current ordinance.
"And they feel that the city is saying, 'We don't care about you. We don't care if you sleep,'" she said.
Day said that if she had to complain about anything, it would be about the noise from amplifiers at the Food & Wine Classic in Wagner Park and from World Cup events on Aspen Mountain. Her three skylights — in the kitchen, living room and bathroom — are particularly susceptible to the loudspeakers.
"The worst is the World Cup because those speakers run for 10 solid days, and you can't possibly shut them out," she said.
Regardless, she said she's fine with whatever direction council takes.
"My feeling is I want what's best for the town," Day said. "And the joy I have of living downtown, the convenience of living downtown, outweighs that aggravation."