Concerns linger over measure’s ambiguity
After six months and four public hearings, the Crested Butte Town Council finally approved its controversial noise ordinance Monday night, despite some concern the ordinance may cause more of a headache than the noise it’s supposed to prevent.
During the regular Town Council meeting on Monday, December 3, the council voted unanimously to approve Ordinance 19, aimed at regulating noise within the Town of Crested Butte. The process of creating a noise ordinance began earlier this year when residential neighbors to the town’s commercial districts began complaining about nighttime noise.
Throughout the process, council members debated prohibited noises, construction hours, muffler requirements for trucks, allowable decibel levels for commercial zones verses residential zones, and whether or not the ordinance should be complaint-driven.
During the most recent public hearing, the council discussed revisions presented by town attorney John Belkin regarding amplified noise. Belkin said he tried to incorporate suggestions presented at the last public hearing held in November. Belkin said he also deleted repetitive provisions under the permitted noises.
More specifically, Belkin deleted "audible" from the amplified noise provisions and replaced it with "distributing the peace." Belkin also changed both provisions to include "during the evening" and "periodic, impulsive and shrill noise."
"I lifted the language from the state statues," Belkin explained.
Belkin told the council the provisions are more subjective, but shouldn’t prevent businesses or individuals from playing music. "It’s okay to have outdoor speakers as long as you don’t disturb the peace," Belkin said.
The discussion over amplified noise came after Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz and Town Council member Dan Escalante said residents were concerned the provisions would prevent them from playing music. However, Belkin explained, the provisions were meant to address bass, which often can not be measured using a decibel reader.
Town Council member Skip Berkshire said he thought it was a big improvement taking out "audible" and the ordinance was a positive step for the community.
However, some council members and residents were worried the ordinance is still ambiguous and may be difficult to enforce.
Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commence director Christi Matthews questioned Belkin’s use of "distributing the peace" and said she preferred the council use a numerical value, as businesses want concrete limits. She said the state statute Belkin referred to includes a decibel level.
"Business owners are fully in support of a noise ordinance because they want a level, but using ‘disturbing the peace’ doesn’t provide that level," Matthews said.
Belkin said the state level was too low for the town and clarified that the provisions addressed bass noise that cannot be measured. "Just because the state said that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for the town," Belkin said.
Escalante agreed with Matthews and asked how "disturbing the peace" was defined. Bernholtz clarified that would be the Marshal’s Office’s decision.
"We are putting this in the hands of our police officers and we’re going to have to put a lot faith in our department to figure this out because it’s a little ambiguous," Bernholtz said.
Business owner Brian Schneider said he wasn’t opposed to the ordinance but agreed it was still ambiguous.
"I would like to think that people work together, but residents just call the police," Snyder said, referring to the ordinance’s requirement of businesses to mitigate the noise.
In addition to the concerns over language, Town Council member Leah Williams asked if the Marshal’s Office thought the ordinance was enforceable. Belkin and town manager Susan Parker both said it was enforceable because of the decibel levels agreed upon.
Decibel levels for the residential zone were set at 50 decibels during the nighttime hours (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and 55 decibels during the daytime (7 a.m. to 10 p.m.), while commercial decibels were set at 60 for nighttime and 70 for daytime.
"The decibel levels are going to solve 99 percent of our problems," Bernholtz said, reassuring the council that the ordinance would be successful.
Parker also told the council members they could have the Marshal’s Office keep a record of complaints and resolutions as a result of the ordinance.
"We could review it in a year and amend it as needed, based on how effective or ineffective it is," Parker said.
Crested Butte resident Mike Johnson, who requested the town look into a noise ordinance, thanked the Town’s effort and agreed with Parker the ordinance could be successful.
"It’s a very good ordinance, and it’s in the best interest of the town," Johnson said. "If we all—residents and businesses—use it in a constructive way, it will be effective."
Escalante agreed and said, "I think it will work when it’s put to the test."
The council approved the ordinance that will become effective five days after public notice is given.