One Agreement on Noise Permits: Process Doesn’t Work

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No one seems to like how the amplified entertainment permit process is done, so city staff and downtown advocates are working to change it.

Following a number of complaints from downtown residents and business owners, the Law and Public Safety Committee Tuesday began discussing how to address the process for obtaining an amplified entertainment permit.

“The residents weren’t happy because it was an evidentiary hearing,” said Councilor and committee chair Mary-Ann Baldwin. “The merchants weren’t happy because it automatically pitted them against residents.”

The current process involves a quasi-judicial hearing, which is used for other special-use permits and for site plan appeals. This is an arduous process that requires people to bring expert testimonies and evidence if they wish to prove why the City Council should deny a business an amplified entertainment permit.

Police officers also expressed concern with enforcement, citing problems with the use of sound meters to enforce the rules.

“We do need to be a little more thoughtful in how we go about that process and reviewing that process in general,” said one Raleigh police officer. “I do question the accuracy of where we are taking the measurements.”

David Diaz, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, contacted the Responsible Hospitality Institute for ideas on how to handle amplified noise. A recent study of a city comparable to Raleigh included suggestions such as staggered closing times for establishments and changing zoning laws to include amplified noise.

“It could be that no city in America is using sound meters any more,” Diaz said, “but rather using the zoning orders to establish zoning districts where in a few blocks there is clear expectation that there is going to be amplified noise before two in the morning on weekends and maybe 11 on the weekdays.”

City Attorney Thomas McCormick also pointed out that a city ordinance allows for the creation of an entertainment district, but that the Council never chose to create one.

“It could simply be considered an administrative permit like the indoor amplified permit. You don’t need a hearing for that,” McCormick said.

The committee decided to keep the issue at the table while the Downtown Raleigh Alliance works with city staff and downtown stakeholders. The issue will return in three months.

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