Although Asheville’s last Public Safety Committee meeting of the year took place a week before Christmas, those citizens in attendance were not inclined to make a joyful noise unto City Council. Instead, commenters at the Dec. 17 meeting argued that noise was exactly their problem: The city’s existing noise ordinance, they said, had failed to protect them from the unacceptable ruckus generated by commercial properties.
“The city attorney’s office says that there’s no easy way to deal with it. Then let’s do one of three things: Let’s punt, let’s kick the can down the road or let’s throw in the towel. I think they all amount to the same thing,” said Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors member Peter Landis with evident frustration. “I don’t think that the concerns of people who are trying to deal with noise issues are being addressed properly or being addressed carefully.”
Downtown resident Tom Foran said he’d been dealing with noise from a commercial establishment for over a year, with loud music from the business often continuing until after 2 a.m. When Asheville police officers respond to his complaints at all, he alleged, they merely ask the business to turn down the volume, issuing no citations and failing to prevent future violations.
“Frankly, I think a lot of people downtown have given up complaining because there’s nobody to complain to,” Foran said. “I think the city is abnegating their responsibility. You are more than willing to take our taxes, but you’re not willing to step up and enforce the noise ordinance.”
Four commenters from the Montford neighborhood also spoke to share their gripes with noise from the Salvage Station concert venue. “People can disagree on what is really a nuisance as far as noise,” said resident Bob Thompson, “but when we’re inside the house with the windows closed and can hear and feel the music that’s coming from more than a quarter of a mile away, to me that is unreasonable.”
Assistant City Attorney John Maddux, who serves as the city staff liaison to the Noise Ordinance Appeals Board, admitted that he currently had no good solution to the problem of commercial noise. However, he did propose numerous changes to the noise ordinance aimed at streamlining complaint resolution.
Under the revised ordinance, noise violations would be punished as infractions rather than civil penalties, which would make the court system responsible for collecting fines. Asheville’s Development Services Department would take over the regulation of construction noise, while the city’s animal control officers would be charged with issuing citations for barking dogs.
The changes would also eliminate the Noise Ordinance Appeals Board, which Maddux called “an inefficient and largely unsuccessful method for resolving citizen noise disputes.” Complainants, he said, usually reach better outcomes through mediation instead of the adversarial, quasi-judicial appeals board process.
The Public Safety Committee, consisting of Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and Council members Brian Haynes and Sheneika Smith, unanimously approved advancing Maddux’s alterations to the Council for a vote. Meanwhile, Haynes encouraged residents to continue advocating for additional changes around commercial noise.
“Please stay in touch with all of us and let us know what you think about these particular changes,” Haynes said. “And if we need to revisit the entire noise ordinance, which it almost sounds like that’s what we need to do, then that’s what we should do.”