New process aims to solve downtown Raleigh bar noise disputes

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 13, 2014 

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Patrons enjoy drink, dance, music and conversation at Cornerstone Tavern on Glenwood South in Raleigh.

CHRIS SEWARD — 2013 News & Observer file photo

— City leaders are ready to launch a new process for handling an increasing number of noise complaints from downtown residents who live near bars and nightclubs.

A city council committee on Tuesday approved a pilot program for noise complaints around Glenwood South, where the number of both bars and apartments is growing fast – often clashing when residents head to bed as bars get busy. The new approach aims to bring together both sides to discuss solutions.

“The hallmark of this entire thing is basically communication, to try to understand and resolve issues without involving the police,” said Dan Lovenheim, who owns two bars on Glenwood South and partnered with residents to develop the program.

If the full council OKs the plan next Tuesday, neighbors would be asked to call the offending bar before involving police, using a city-sponsored website that will list 24-hour contacts for each business.

The business owner would then turn down the volume or rearrange speakers; if the neighbors still aren’t satisfied, they could ask the city to bring in a mediator. If mediation doesn’t solve the dispute, police would then bring in decibel meters to investigate and could issue fines and revoke the bar’s sound permits.

Lovenheim – whose patio-oriented Cornerstone Tavern had received complaints – said he’s been trying out the approach.

“It’s been remarkably effective,” he said. “I have opened lines of communication with neighbors next to me … and I’ve been able to make arrangements to rectify most of those issues.”

Police said Tuesday that they’ve received just one complaint about Cornerstone in the past six months.

To join the program, bar owners would need to get a special hospitality permit. That would allow them to leave their doors open while background music or a live acoustic performance plays inside. It doesn’t allow for DJs or rock bands, and it requires noise to stop by 11 p.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends.

The hospitality permits would replace a contentious outdoor entertainment permitting process. Those permits required a contentious courtroom-like hearing before the city council.

“We feel it’s damaging the relationship between residents and merchants,” said Jim Belt, a Glenwood South resident who helped develop the new process.

The program wouldn’t apply to the Fayetteville Street district, where Belt says residents were demanding that “everything stop at 11” p.m. Businesses there will still have to use the more complicated process to leave doors open while playing music.

City officials are still working on a plan for street noise – the talking and shouting that happens outside bar properties as they close at 2 a.m.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said she supports the plan but expects police will still get calls about noise.

“Sometimes a person maybe shouldn’t live downtown,” she said. “Part of living downtown is that it is noisy.”

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

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