City leaders could soon have a solution to the noise-related conflicts between downtown bar owners and the growing number of residents sleeping in the high rises above them.
A city council committee got a sneak peak of the new mediation process Tuesday. It would replace contentious public hearings in which the bars are forced to seek new outdoor sound permits just to keep their doors propped open while music plays inside.
“This represents an interesting conundrum for the council because we’re actually victims of our own success downtown,” assistant city manager Dan Howe said.
The controversy first surfaced last fall when an increase in noise complaints sent a half-dozen bar owners to the city council for outdoor sound permits. The request met with outcry from condo and apartment residents, who feared the noise could get worse.
The city set up an advisory panel of one bar owner and resident each from two nightlife districts: Glenwood South and Fayetteville Street.
The panel is recommending a three-step process for addressing bar noise. The first step for a rattled neighbor would be calling the offending bar, using a city-sponsored website listing 24-hour contacts for each business. The business owner would then turn down the volume, but if the neighbor wasn’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 potentially revoke the bar’s sound permits.
“It would be a series of levels that would hopefully engage the people that are most affected by the noise with the people who are in charge of the noise ... in the hopes that they could achieve a good balance,” Howe explained.
Before the proposal goes to the full city council, Howe and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance plan to seek feedback from more residents and bar owners. “I’m hopeful that this can be the beginning of a larger process,” alliance head David Diaz said.
But Diaz cautioned that determining the source of a noise complaint might prove difficult. He said the owner of Glenwood South nightclub 606 Lounge recently got a call from the hotel next door asking him to turn down the volume – but 606 was closed for renovations and silent.
City Councilman Thomas Crowder said downtown Raleigh could soon have too many bars and clubs, making it hard for a single business to control noise. “I think the real problem is we’re getting an oversaturation of certain nightlife venues, and we’re not getting the other retail options we need downtown,” he said. “If we’re not careful, we’re going to kill the goose.”
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said that during the revitalization plans for Fayetteville Street a decade ago, “we recommended that there be an economic development strategy, and that was not heeded – but we recommended that for that very reason.”
Crowder said it’s time for Raleigh to consider a stepped-up police presence downtown. “We’re going to have to put more backing into urban areas because they have more quality of life challenges than suburban areas,” he said, adding that the special downtown tax district could cover the cost of more officers.
That suggestion met with opposition from Diaz, who represents downtown businesses and property owners. “I’m telling you that’s bad practice,” he said.
The new plan to address noise complaints will get more review from the council’s law and public safety committee next month before it heads to the full council for a vote.