Lower the volume on Raleigh's boom

Patrons congregate outside Foundation cocktail bar on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. Some have complained that the revived area is becoming too loud.
Patrons congregate outside Foundation cocktail bar on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. Some have complained that the revived area is becoming too loud. tlong@newsobserver.com

When someone heads a company with 40 buildings and 500 employees connected to downtown Raleigh, getting the Raleigh City Council's attention is fairly easy.

And Greg Hatem - whose company owns the restaurants Sitti, Gravy, The Pit and the Raleigh and Morning Times, along with many other properties - has earned that attention. Hatem's involvement with downtown Raleigh goes back to a time when it was by no means certain that the city would see the boom it has. Hatem took big chances and got big returns.

But he's moving his family, which includes younger children, out of a Fayetteville Street apartment into the Oakwood neighborhood near downtown. Why? The noise and party aftermath have made downtown, he says, "unlivable." He doesn't like the idea of his family waking up to the garbage and other remnants of the previous night's revels.

Hatem appeared before the city recently to request a one-year moratorium on permits to allow eateries along Fayetteville Street to open their doors and windows, sending music into the streets. Hatem got what he wanted, to the chagrin of some of those restaurant-bar owners. It was the right decision. Rules and regulations have to evolve.

It wasn't long ago that people would have laughed at this debate because it would have been about nothing. Those who have been residents of Raleigh for more than a few years remember when Fayetteville Street was closed to traffic in 1977 and converted to a pedestrian mall. Downtown nightlife was virtually nonexistent until the street was reopened in 2006. That the council would be hearing complaints in 2015 about all the noise downtown would have been inconceivable to those walking Fayetteville Street in its forlorn era.

But with the boom downtown, there are growing issues with noise and property maintenance. If nightlife is going to peacefully coexist with the full-time residents Raleigh wants and encourages for the downtown area, rules will have to be tightened.

Near residential sites, for example, restaurants should join with the city to dispose of trash quickly. And, yes, they need to limit the noise out of consideration for their neighbors.

Most people who live downtown understand that urban living comes with many advantages and challenges they may have to understand and live with.

One of those challenges most certainly is noise, and nearby residents understand they're going to hear more than they heard on residential streets far from the city's core. But there's a point where the noise must be curbed. Hatem is probably as good a judge as anyone of where that point is. He has lived downtown and encouraged others to do the same.

The happy aspect of this discussion is that it can result in a reasonable dialogue and a resolution. It's important to have a variety of entertainment downtown, and the area seems attractive particularly to the coming generations in Raleigh.

There may be solutions that haven't yet been discussed. And while some restaurant owners might resent Hatem's complaints, they can acknowledge that there's no harm in everyone's working together to find a solution.

Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin, an at-large member who ran for her seat citywide, would be a good candidate to head the effort at reaching an agreement on how to handle noise levels on Fayetteville Street and elsewhere. (Similar problems have arisen in the Glenwood South neighborhood.) She is respected by those involved in downtown development.

The council has delayed the requested permits, but it should not delay in addressing the noise issues. A solution will not please everyone, but it can be something that encourages downtown development while adopting guidelines to help merchants and residents alike enjoy downtown life.