OPINION: Fighting over Asheville’s nightlife — what’s behind disputes over noise

At their Nov. 13 meeting, Asheville City Council members passed stricter noise rules, making it easier for police to hand out a citation if the violation takes place after 11 p.m.or in or near a residential area. Shouting, yelling, and parties also joined the list of activities that could run afoul of the city’s rules.

But for some at the meeting, the noise rules didn’t go far enough. Pat Dockery, a West Asheville housewife vocal about noise from local businesses in her area, wanted a decibel standard and tougher enforcement. Current rules leave it up to the police officer on scene to determine if an activity violates the law. Larry Holt, co-chair of Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors, wanted the rules extended to cover downtown as well.

Council balked at that last suggestion, with Council member Cecil Bothwell noting that noise is an inherent part of the neighborhood’s nature.

At the heart of all this is the fact that for years city government, civic organizations, and others engaged in Asheville’s revival have pushed hard for new development. It’s happening: across the city formerly abandoned stretches are home to new activities from a variety of businesses, some of it lasting late into the night.

But all that longed-for growth means noise. The urge for a bustling urban hub collides neatly with the desire for a quiet night’s sleep.

Also, a growing number of Ashevilleans work in the service and health industries, keeping different hours than the traditional 9-to-5 day that many noise ordinances take for granted. How does one write rules that balance such competing schedules?

This is a common challenge for any city, and it’s never a particularly easy one. During the debate over food trucks in downtown, for example, Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer unsuccessfully broached a midnight closing time for the trucks, asserting that later activity “brings to mind a college town. I wonder if that’s something we want to bring into Asheville.” But fellow Council member Gordon Smith countered that Asheville’s nightlife is a boon — it’s a reason the city has become an increasingly attractive destination.

The exchange was revealing: People love cities for different reasons and expect from them different things. Consciously or not, they often expect others to accommodate that. For some, Asheville’s a growing metropolitan center; for others, it’s a peaceful place to relax. Those goals won’t always coexist comfortably.

Naturally, people want laws to favor their vision of the city, especially when others infringe on what they want to see. For every person complaining about the issues brought on by an increased nightlife, there’s probably one who finds it a major reason to stay in town. That raises an even greater question: How much should anyone in a city expect to control their surrounding environment?

As the population increases and Asheville continue its rise as a regional hub, expect these fights to continue. After all, it’s impossible to run a city in a way that makes everyone happy.


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2 thoughts on “OPINION: Fighting over Asheville’s nightlife — what’s behind disputes over noise

  1. Jim Rodden

    I live downtown and find the noise from bars, people in the street shouting and especially the firetrucks to be very annoying. At the same time and paradoxically I wouldn’t change a thing. I love the energy and activity of the city. As they say nothing is perfect and I hope the busybodies don’t force change on a mostly good thing.

    • Marine Ryd

      Hi Mr Rodden,

      I’m writing an article for a newspaper at UNC Asheville. Could you tell me more about your opinion about the noise in Asheville? Thanks a lot!

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