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Johnson City officials hope amended ordinance will result in fewer noise complaints

September 11th, 2013 9:35 pm by Gary B. Gray

Johnson City officials hope amended ordinance will result in fewer noise complaints

Can the "thump, thump sound” from Johnson City night spots like the Electric Cowboy be addressed by using a new decibel measuring system? (Ron Campbell/ Johnson City Press)


Johnson City is moving toward a tougher noise ordinance that would penalize those exceeding certain low frequency decibel levels in residential areas.


Police Chief Mark Sirois, as well as city commissioners, say complaints about loud noise at the Electric Cowboy set the tone for new language in the city code. Sirois said the “thump, thump sound” that can be heard inside homes and on public streets will be addressed by using a new measuring system.  


The City Commission passed a first of three required readings last week.


“Over the years we’ve received complaints from residents in the Tanglewood neighborhood, and we’ve had to go out there and talk with management,” he said. “We’ve also met with residents and management together on a number of locations, and they (business owner/management) have been amenable. I know they’ve done some soundproofing at the back of the club. They’ve also asked their employees to try and keep the back doors closed.”


The Electric Cowboy is located at 1805 N. Roan St. in the Roan Centre, a strip mall. The club is open from 7:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The business opened in Johnson City in 1995, and is one of 12 establishments operating mainly in the South.


Regional Manager Jeff Bostic was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.


Sirois said the proposed ordinance is not designed to focus on one location, but can be applied to loud music/loud party calls police receive citywide. 


“It (noise, disturbances) came after we moved in here,” said Edith Street, who lives about one block from the establishment. “I couldn’t believe what was going on there. A lot of people still turn in here day and night.”


Street said she finally called police late one night when someone turned over a heavy flower pot sitting at the end of her driveway.


“I called the law, and it kind of quieted down a bit,” she said. “But it used to keep us up, and I have neighbors that have complained about it.”  


Basically, the ordinance would amend current law to allow for the measurement and capture of bass sound on a “C-scale setting,” a method used to measure decibel levels. The current ordinance includes only the use of A-scale settings. Practically speaking, low frequency noise levels from a bar, for example, that were not violations under the present ordinance, will become illegal at certain levels.


The revision includes that “low frequency ambient” sound levels will be measured at the source of a complaint when the sound (band, crowd, etc.) is not under way. This measurement will be used for comparison at the same location when sound is emanating from the location.


Maximum permitted sound levels in all residentially zoned areas will be measured at 5 feet above the ground at any point on the property lines of complaining residents. Sound occurring between 11 p.m.-7 a.m. cannot exceed 55 dBa, 75 dBa between 7 a.m.-11 p.m. and 8 dBc above the low frequency ambient noise level at any time. 


“Weighting” is applied to instrument-measured sound levels in effort to account for the relative loudness perceived by the human ear. The decibel scale measures sound based on human hearing.


The ordinance prohibits “nuisance noises” that exceed sound levels, including animals, noises heard inside schools, public buildings, churches and hospitals, music from loudspeakers for the purpose of attracting attention to a performance or display of merchandise.


But the most-targeted application appears to be that of “places of entertainment.” 


“This has mostly been centered on noise complaints with the Electric Cowboy,” said Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin. “There have been some other areas in the city where we’ve had some complaints, but it’s mostly been about that establishment. People have been losing sleep in that neighborhood.”


Van Brocklin said Commissioner Jeff Banyas contacted Dr. Dan Schumaier about measuring noise levels.


Schumaier, a local audiologist and East Tennessee Rail Trail Task Force chairman, has been working with the city’s police and legal departments to develop an ordinance that covers low frequency noise sources, particularly bass sounds from speakers. Schumaier has spent many hours researching ordinances, taking measurements, evaluating the city’s present noise measuring equipment, and meeting with city staff. He has donated all his time without any charge whatsoever.


“There have been complaints from the public,” said City Commissioner David Tomita. “We’ll be getting some public input at our (City Commission) next meeting.”


There are a few exceptions: any vehicle or employers of the city while engaged in public business, construction between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. (if properly permitted), utility or other work on behalf of the city, domestic power tools and lawn mowers, safety signals and alarms, church bells and chimes, parades and athletic events sanctioned by the city, permitted street fairs and block parties, noise from trains and religious or political gatherings.


Violating the code will mean receiving a citation “with a misdemeanor which may result in a fine of not more than $50” for each separate violation, according to the proposed ordinance. If the responsible party does not pay up upon issuance of the violation, they will immediately be cited for an additional violation and be held liable for remedying the situation and paying for any costs or fines.  


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