Downtown Raleigh bars, apartment residents face off over noise issues

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2013 

— Downtown is adding bars and high-rise apartments at a rapid rate, and the growing late-night crowds along Glenwood South and Fayetteville Street are none too popular with residents trying to sleep.

The tension between apartment residents and the owners of bars and nightclubs has reached the Raleigh City Council. Stepped-up police enforcement of noise complaints has prompted many bars to seek new outdoor sound permits just to keep their doors propped open while music plays inside.

Each permit requires a city council hearing that draws plenty of neighbors concerned about noise in general; the bar hearings took nearly two hours at last month’s council meeting. Last month saw two hearings, while Tuesday’s agenda has five bars up for permits.

“Nobody is happy with the process,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said. “(Bar owners) felt it automatically pitted them against the residents.”

The council will vote Tuesday to seek recommended solutions from a group of residents and business owners led by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.

Alliance president David Diaz says the number of nightlife establishments around Glenwood South and Fayetteville Street has recently hit 60, which can bring up to 15,000 people downtown on a Saturday night. That wasn’t the case just a few years ago.

“I think this stuff has really snuck up on us,” he said. “This is a function of the success of the downtown. ... It’s the first time that this city is having to deal with these big city kinds of establishments.”

Diaz said his organization will be researching how larger cities balance the needs of downtown residents and nightlife.

Souheil Al-Awar, who owns the Clockwork bar and restaurant just off Glenwood South, said he’s pleased with the city’s efforts and wants to be part of the solution. When he sought his sound permit this month, he agreed to close his glass garage door at 11 p.m. on weeknights to minimize noise from his indoor speakers. The garage door is typically open on warmer evenings to allow customers to enjoy the weather.

“As we grow, we become integrated with people living close to where they go out to eat and drink,” Al-Awar said. “I think we all have to work together.”

Al-Awar suggests that the police department use decibel meters to objectively determine when a bar’s soundtrack gets out of hand. He also thinks downtown apartments need to be constructed with more soundproof materials.

Dan Lovenheim got a permit last month for his Cornerstone Tavern on Glenwood, a renovated house with an expansive outdoor patio. He’ll be back at the city council Tuesday seeking one for his dance club across the street, 606 Lounge.

He thinks the city should simply drop the permit requirement in downtown areasbecause the bars aren’t asking to turn up the volume or add outdoor DJs – they just want to keep the doors open.

“This policy is antithetical to a growing and vibrant downtown,” Lovenheim said. “The current laws make sense in many places, but not in certain specific areas of the city’s center.”

But condominium residents on Glenwood South says something should be done to address the noise. Art Whitney told the council that he and his neighbors often complain about the two nightclubs located downstairs.

“They’ll all of a sudden get a DJ in there and they’ll be playing really loud,” he said. “It disturbs the people in the building with bass. I don’t want to be entertaining outside and have to compete with a live band or loud music emanating into my private space.”

With more nightlife spots opening nearly every month, downtown’s main commercial strips likely won’t ever be quiet zones again. Music can be regulated, but not much can be done about chatty crowds spilling out onto the street at 2 a.m.

But Diaz says it’s important to reach a clear understanding of what both bars and residents should expect as a growing number of people head downtown to party.

“We don’t know what’s going to be reasonable for downtown Raleigh,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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