Asheville residents clamor for noise ordinance changes

Tom Foran
QUIET TIME: Downtown resident Tom Foran urges Council's Public Safety Committee to create better rules around commercial noise. Photo by Daniel Walton

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.”

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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15 thoughts on “Asheville residents clamor for noise ordinance changes

  1. Lulz

    LOL see how gentrification works. Obviously wealthy people move in and no longer find something acceptable. And the hilarious part about it is nothing changed before or after they moved in. I’ll give the Montford residents some leeway here but those in the downtown area have no reason to complain. The loud music and people have been there for years now. And usually til 2AM. So they have the time to petition. Fair warning to those businesses downtown who are being targeted by them. Eventually they will get their way. What are you going to do about it?

  2. SpareChange

    There is a noise ordinance which has long been part of local law. The problem is, it is virtually never enforced, and when any citizen does file a notice that they believe the law is being violated, expecting that it might actually prompt some action, it then involves the most burdensome and ridiculous series of hurdles. The existing process is nothing but a classic bureaucratic exercise in attempting to get people to go away through the use of red tape.

    Chief among those hurdles, in my experience, is the Assistant City Attorney himself, who when I and 10 other households filed a complaint approximately four years ago, made it abundantly clear that he considered the whole matter a waste of his time. His attempt at what he calls “mediation” was just an exercise in futility. The offending parties nodded and agreed, and then went right on with business as usual (which continues to this day). It then falls upon residents to again initiate and engage a process which did not produce a result in the first instance.

    APD gets stuck in the middle because they have been provided with no mandate to really enforce the ordinance. So, as explained in the article, at most, they may tell those in violation to “tone it down a bit.” Further, while that might have at least some immediate, or short-term effect on disturbances, such as music, which go on for long periods of time, it utterly fails when it comes to short-term and sporadic, but recurrent violations, such as the loading and unloading of trucks at all times of night.

    So, people should understand, that when complaints have been filed, it’s not just cranky people complaining about noise. This is a real quality of life issue, and an issue of whether or not the interests of residents are permitted to prevail in any of these situations. It also represents a fairly simple and straightforward appeal by citizens for the city to simply enforce its own existing ordinances. In the end it is also not only a downtown issue by any means One need only speak to the homeowners and residents who reside around Greenlife/Whole Foods, or Mission Hospital, or any of several other places scattered all around town where the City continues to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to recurrent and unreasonable levels of noise which clearly violate existing law.

    • Lulz

      Well see the problem here is one of the arguments used against AirBnBs. Namely that they will be noisy and are not located in a business district. Here’s the opposite and irony of all ironies, they are allowed downtown where gosh there are bars and loud music. So either decide to enforce the noise ordinance across the board, thus shutting down many venues at 9. Or make it clear that if you decide to live downtown that you might have to deal with loud noises. Apparently many that move here don’t do their research. And these rich fools think just because they can buy high 6 and 7 figure apartments, that somehow everything and everyone has to change to adapt to their whims. Maybe they should think long and hard before moving there to begin with.

  3. Chester C

    I know it’s not even midnight yet, but I want a noise ordinance for the couple loudly in the throes of passion in the Airbnb hot tub just outside my apartment window. They’ve been at it for like an hour. Jeez, people, we get it, you’re in your 20s.

  4. G G Allen

    New York City had a similar situation but eventually required bars and live music venues to install extensive sound proofing building materials in order to continue operating. These places can cut down the noise dramatically but they have to be forced to do sound proofing which is expensive,

    • Lulz

      LOL and thus you start gentrifying businesses out that can’t afford to soundproof their 100 year old buildings. So downtown becomes even more elitiat on one end. And more corporate on the other. Corporations are the only ones who can afford to play by the rules. Oh and that’s because they’re the ones making them. AirBnB bans anyone?

    • SpareChange

      There’s actually lots of space in between the current state of having: a) virtually no enforcement, b) a purposefully Byzantine process designed to discourage enforcement, and c) personnel in charge who make it clear they do not wish to be bothered, vs. having draconian requirements and building modifications.

      Case in point: the business that is referred to but not named in the article is a 2nd story bar on College Street. It is a great place, but it has long had this charming custom of of allowing DJs late at night and into the early morning hours, open the windows and place speakers pointing outward toward the street, in order to blast music to attract customers. The DJ gets paid by how many customers come in. After what is now multiple complaints, over a very long period of time, and numerous warnings, clearly they have not gotten the message. Here’s the fix: don’t put speakers in the windows pointing outward, close the windows after a certain hour, adjust the volume after a certain hour, pay the DJ a decent rate if you want a DJ, and be a considerate neighbor. After repeated warnings, communications with the owners, and continued infractions, maybe even actually have a penalty or fine that makes the point that the behavior is unacceptable. No renovation required.

      • Lulz

        End result will be that businesses will be pushed out who can’t comply. After all, most of them are on leases and don’t own the buildings themselves. What comes in won’t be independent music venues but more corporate retail.

        45 Cherry was located in Montford way back when where AT&T is at. In this day it would be literally fined out of there. But back then Asheville was different. And a hell of lot better.

  5. Suds

    Live a half mile from Highland “Brewery,” and the have their little concerts outside in the “meadow.” The owner said she was cognizant of this neighborhood’s complaints. That was a year ago. Nothing changed, of course, except the traffic and more drunks. East Asheville is going down the crapper too. But, hey, greed has to be served. It would help if I liked their “beer,” I guess.

  6. Timothy Raines

    Same old story; everyone wants things done their way. How can you move into a city and expect no noise ? That’s why I live outside the city where the noise problem isn’t as bad, but you still have noise. I don’t expect everyone to be quiet just because of me. We have become self absorbed & want everything our way… get over yourself or move.

    • Lulz

      They’re called elitist for a reason. And they have the money and connections to impose their will. As more elitist move here, Asheville will become less diversified. Downtown can’t be a tourist trap with noisy businesses and an elitist residential district at the same time. One or the other has to give. And IMO the elitist is what will eventually kill the music scene here.

    • SpareChange

      Oh come now (I won’t even try to engage the class warfare troll who regularly expresses contempt for any taxonomic group other than his own). But beyond that, no one who chooses to live downtown expects “no noise.” There’s constant noise. It’s expected, it is part of life there, and it mostly does not constitute a problem. The vitality of downtown and normal ebb and flow of things is simply not what is at issue here. As stated, there is an expansive middle ground between “no noise,” and speakers blaring directly out into the streets after midnight. Second, it is, after all, the job of government to find ways to balance the diversity of interests in any area. This is where the City is having trouble with this issue, and they acknowledge that they are not doing a good job on this.

      Lets reframe the issue. If someone chooses to live outside of downtown, or in a more rural or mountainous area. Great. He or she may live in a place where they know the delivery of important services is going to be impacted. If there is a bad snow, you reasonably expect and know that you are not at the top of the list for snow removal. You also know that the fire station is not right down the street, and that the police are not likely right in your neighborhood. You wait, you understand the priorities. Maybe you gripe a little from time to time, but all is mostly fine because they do get to you. That’s a far cry from saying, “Hey you chose to live further out. Tough luck. You shouldn’t expect snow removal, fire protection, police sercives — so, move if you don’t like it.” But that is essentially what some are arguing with regard to downtown residents.

      The existing ordinance already sets reasonable times and standards for gauging what is permissible. It then all comes down to enforcement, and it is there that things break down.

      • Lulz

        LOL it’s not the job of some crony bureaucrat to come behind you in order to keep the noise down in an area that’s NOISY lulz. This is the mentality of the snobs that you possess. If people move into their downtown condos then they should realize that there’s going to be noise into the wee hours of the morning. This is more along the lines of they paid lots of money and now expect things to change around their whims. Buyers remorse so to speak. We saw is with Patton Ave and the car cruising there and we almost saw it with Riverlink wanting to get rid of the trains. And the latter was more a reflection of getting developers to come down there and build overpriced condos rather than silencing the “loud” noise. Greed at its finest from the “progressives” lulz.

        As far as living out in the countryside, you don’t expect the cops to be within a mile of you. But you also should have enough common sense to prepare. And not turn around and complain to some crony that they aren’t doing enough for YOU because you failed yourself. The people moving into downtown show none of that. And they, as you, won’t admit that. But that’s why you expect some government ninny to come behind you to make things right.

        • SpareChange

          Given various statements you’ve made, you obviously know absolutely nothing about the existing noise ordinance, what it requires, or the process by which it is “enforced.” I understand that trolls rarely see the need to actually be open and learn something about an issue prior to spewing their nonsense all over a subject, but on this you’ve dropped your already very low bar even further. Congrats on once again dumbing down what could be a useful discussion of a local issue.

          • Lulz

            LOL you can’t suddenly demand enforcement because downtown failed to change after you moved there. It’s like these morons that move close to the airport then demand the planes to stop flying lulz. What are you going to do, get the noise police to shut them down?

            People living downtown should know better than think it’ll be crickets after 10PM. There’ no better way to gentrify it than enforce it. And the last thing you want is a bunch of empty buildings again because that’s exactly what you’ll get. 10-15,000 monthly rents don’t pay themselves selling trinkets and garbage.

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