Hopefully a lower decibel level, too
Bike parking will debut on Elk Avenue this summer as part of a pilot program to ease congestion on downtown sidewalks. In addition, businesses that pipe music to outdoor patios and entryways will be subject to new, lower decibel level requirements in an effort to reduce overall noise levels.
Both recommendations grew out of discussions between the Board of Zoning and Architectural Review (BOZAR) and the Town Council, which sought to address noise and congestion issues noted on Elk Avenue last summer. At a Town Council meeting on Monday, April 15, interim town manager Bob Gillie explained that creating bike parking would involve moving bike racks onto a couple of parking spots on Elk.
“One spot specifically targeted was in front of the Brick Oven. If we do it another place or two, we’ll let the staff decide where they want to try to alleviate congestion,” Gillie said.
Councilmember John Wirsing was in favor of the idea but wondered if there would be backlash from businesses that pay significant parking fees. “Are we anticipating that some people could be negatively impacted?” he asked.
“We’re only talking about a couple of spaces… I’m cautiously optimistic that we won’t get a lot of push-back, but that’s why it’s a pilot program,” Gillie said.
Wirsing suggested that town staff talk with affected business owners directly once the locations for bike parking are determined. When Mayor Aaron Huckstep followed that by asking if there was anyone against bike parking, there was silence in the room.
The council also weighed in on BOZAR’s recommendation to reduce maximum decibel levels for outdoor music from 70 decibels to 60 after BOZAR members, town staff, and some members of Town Council conducted informal boom box experiments.
“We did have a boom box and a decibel meter and turned it up and down and listened to the different decibel levels,” Gillie explained. “I don’t know if the issue is so much the decibel level as the competing nature of numerous point sources, but we discussed that if we could just dial it down a little bit restaurants would still get what they wanted and not start to impact the streetscape in a way that is annoying or too much going on all at once.”
After a quick Internet search, Councilmember Shaun Matusewicz confirmed that the difference between 60 and 70 decibel levels is “Where they draw the line between quiet or normal, and annoying.”
Conversations and background music in a restaurant or office fall at 60 decibels, whereas vacuum cleaners and freeway noise at close range fall at 70 decibels.
Councilmember David Owen said he had participated in the boom box experiment and 60 decibels seemed plenty loud to him. He would have been okay going to 50 decibels. But Councilmember Jim Schmidt wanted to know if any decibel measurements had been taken around town last summer, particularly at restaurants like the Forest Queen, where outdoor music was very loud.
Gillie said they hadn’t taken measurements last summer but explained that live outdoor music was a different issue.
“We’re going to have to treat live music differently from music piped out through speakers, which was mostly where we were focused,” Gillie said, adding that outdoor music is regulated through conditional use permits or liquor licenses. “I would say the Forest Queen was out of compliance with their conditional use permit last summer.”
He added that town staff will likely pay extra attention to decibel levels this coming summer, and that some education may be required to help restaurants understand what 60 decibels means.
The council largely spoke in favor of the new decibel levels, with the exception of Matusewicz. “I’m not in favor of it, but not enough to have a big conversation about it when there’s only one of me,” he said. So expect bike parking and a slightly less noisy Elk Avenue this summer.