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City dives into noise issue

Councilman Jerry Smith says a meter reading might hold up in court better than officer discretion. Councilman Jerry Smith says a meter reading might hold up in court better than officer discretion.

Nightlife and noise go together. Nightlife noise and residential living don't.

The Hendersonville City Council plunged into that two-sided topic this week.


Steve CarakerSteve CarakerCouncilman Steve Caraker during Thursday night's regular council meeting said he had received a growing number of complaints from residents of an upstairs apartment next to the Blue Note Grill at 114 N. Main St., a blues and jazz club that features late-night music.

"I think we need to write something in the ordinance to allow it to exist and not to have to listen to 80 decibels of noise through the brick wall," Caraker said.

The compatibility of late night music and residential living downtown raises a challenging question for the City Council, presenting a choice between two desirable building blocks of a vital downtown in a tourism-reliant region.

"It's a real plus to have people living downtown," said Councilman Ron Stephens. "They're all over the sidewalks. It probably helps police to have more people moving around."

Council members expressed sympathy toward the residents separated from electrified music by only a common wall. Yet the council has been generally friendly, too, toward zoning changes that spark downtown development and has invested heavily in redoing Main Street.

Police Chief Herbert Blake said his experience enforcing noise complaints in two other cities and his study of towns similar to Hendersonville indicated that Hendersonville is more permissive when it comes to noise. "We are not as strict as some of the other cities," he said.

Many towns use officer discretion in responding to loud-music complaints. Hendersonville law allows 70 decibels of sound (measured 25 feet from the property line) until 11 p.m. and 60 decibels after. A Purdue University study reported that a passenger car traveling 65 mph creates 77 dB of noise from 25 feet while a vacuum cleaner creates 70. Sixty decibels, which is half as loud, could be the level of conversation in a restaurant, background music or air conditioning unit 100 feet away, the study said.

The proprietor of the Blue Note has a decibel meter himself, Chief Blake said. "When the officers go out there and respond he's not in violation," he said.

Councilman Jerry Smith, who earned a law degree before he became a Hendersonville High School civics teacher, said a decibel reading seems more exact and legally sound than officer discretion would be.

"If it's above it, citation," he said. "If it's below it, party on. That seems to me a lot more exact than 'the officer thought it was too loud.'" He compared it to an officer clocking a motorist for speeding and producing an exact number to show the judge. "It's not 'the officer said you were driving fast.'"

Councilman Jeff Collis suggested the problem might be on the enforcement side when it comes to court. A probation officer, Collis said he had heard in the courthouse that District Attorney Jeff Hunt had said he'd throw out noise citations based on the city's ordinance. Hunt could not reached Friday morning to respond.

City Manager Bo Ferguson recapped the council discussion and said the staff would study noise laws.

"What I think we will bring back to you is what the average ordinance looks like, what similar communities have, what's on the aggressive side and what's on the lenient side," he said. "That will give you some context."