Business owners and residents said resolving noise complaints as more people live downtown may be as simple as getting to know one’s neighbors.
More than a dozen people joined Chapel Hill police officers Monday at the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership on West Rosemary Street to learn more about the town’s noise rules and how police are enforcing them.
The town’s rules were adopted about 14 years ago, Assistant Police Chief Jabe Hunter said. They’re usually enforced according to what a reasonable person might consider to be noise that interferes with a neighbor’s use of his property. Police also can cite a violator if they get two complaints at least 20 minutes apart from two people calling from different locations.
Police aren’t lurking in the bushes outside bars with sound meters, Hunter said.
At least 10 noise incidents have been reported by police since October. Pantana Bob’s manager Corey LaPrade was fined for violating the town’s noise ordinance just after 9 p.m. April 24 when police said an Embers performance was too loud. The bar had a noise permit, owner Bennett LaPrade said.
Police also reported stopping at He’s Not Here on West Franklin Street twice this spring.
The bar has made changes, co-owner Matt Mehok said, such as removing bigger speakers and eliminating music with deep bass sounds. They’re bringing more bluegrass and acoustic acts to the courtyard, while moving louder jam bands inside, he said.
Pantana Bob’s has curtailed outdoor music, LaPrade said, but it’s frustrating to be asked repeatedly to meet the needs of a few 140 West Franklin residents, especially after living with disruptions caused when Church Street closed for the building’s construction and now for 140 West Plaza events.
He would welcome a conversation with downtown residents, LaPrade said, and a compromise that keeps his West Rosemary Street bar in business.
“I can play the game if I know the rules,” he said. “It’s pretty arbitrary right now. I felt the night that we got a ticket that we followed the rules.”
Former Chapel Hill Mayor Ken Broun, who lives at 140 West and is president of the homeowner’s association, said he would be happy to sit down with business owners and find a solution. They also can contact the management at 140 West if there’s an issue, he said.
The bars have done what they can to fix the problem, said Jim Reed, who also lives at 140 West. The bigger issue, he said, is the young people leaving the bars.
The town’s Alcohol Law Enforcement Investigator Mike Mineer has worked in recent years with Aaron Bachenheimer, UNC’s director of fraternity and sorority life and community involvement, to follow up with students who violate town noise rules. The number of complaints has fallen about 17 percent since those follow-up visits started, Mineer said. The department now averages 30 complaints between Thursday and Sunday.
Bachenheimer tells them to “remind your friends when you’re walking back and forth you guys may be up, but there are people who are asleep at 2:30 in the morning,” Mineer said. “It is addressed, and I know there have actually been a couple of citations written to people.”
Chapel Hill isn’t alone in wrestling with noise issues as more people move into downtown buildings. Mineer noted, however, that roughly 90 percent of the town’s noise violations originate in residential areas vs. 10 percent in the business district.
It is tough to control loud students and will require working closely with the university, the officers said. One possibility is expanding the town-gown Good Neighbor Initiative, which provides information to students in downtown neighborhoods about living off campus and being good neighbors.
“We want those kids to know that you’re not living in a dormitory now. You’re not living in a frat house. You’re living in a community,” Hunter said.