It’s Time To Take A Fresh Look At Jamestown’s Noise Ordinance

On the surface, it would be easy to laugh off the complaints of someone who buys a building in a city’s downtown and then complain when it’s too noisy.

Doing so, however, disregards a pretty plain incongruence with the old Downtown Jamestown Development Corp. slogan that downtown was a great place to live, work and play. A lot of money has been spent turning the upper floors of downtown buildings into prime living spaces. Some of those dwelling downtown don’t mind the noise that comes with playing downtown, but it was really inevitable that someone would spend quite a bit of money converting a downtown building into a swank living place and not want to be bombarded with noise.

Rather than simply disregarding the complaint, perhaps it would be better to re-examine the city’s noise ordinance or building codes. Originally adopted by the City Council in March 1962, the city’s noise ordinances have been amended in 1973, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2003 and, lastly, in 2006. The existing law isn’t very precise. Loud music, for example, contains language describing a violation as sound “in such a manner as to disturb the peace, quiet and comfort of the neighboring inhabitants or at any time with louder volume than is necessary for convenient hearing for the persons who are voluntary listeners thereto.” Convenient hearing means different things to a 21-year-old in their first apartment than it does to a married couple with two children who have to get up for school and work the next morning. That same subsection of the law defines a violation as “operation of any of the above in such a manner as to be plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet from the building, structure, property or room in which it is located shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this subsection.”

What is plainly audible? Is anyone measuring these complaints with a tape measure? How does one reasonably enforce that prohibition?

A lot has changed between 2006 and 2019.

Jamestown is trying to embrace tourism. There should be concerts downtown. A sizeable chunk of money was spent last year turning Second Street from Jefferson to Washington streets near the National Comedy Center into a public piazza for outdoor events. Whether it’s basketball tournaments downtown, LucyFest, the Third Thursday concert series or new events that haven’t been conceived yet, downtown businesses benefit from keeping people downtown after 5 p.m. Developers have spent a lot of money redeveloping vacant or under-used buildings on the premise they can create more foot traffic downtown while capitalizing on what they hope will be a busier entertainment and social scene downtown.

The conflict between living downtown and playing downtown isn’t going away anytime soon. Coexistence might be easier if City Council members answered a few questions. Should downtown residential developments be forced to embrace better soundproofing for those living downtown if doing so isn’t cost-prohibitive? Should the City Code better define acceptable noise levels by using decibels? Some cities have sound districts that allow for different decibel levels than the rest of the city depending on the time of day. Is that an avenue for Jamestown to examine? Should the city be more proactive in having someone enforce noise levels?

Mayor Sam Teresi was right when he said, “We try very hard, and in some cases you’re not going to make everybody happy …” We disagree with the mayor, though, when he says, “… if the bulk of the community is in agreement and is benefiting, and the business community is happy, that’s what we can shoot for so just keep doing what we’ve been doing and try to be the best at it.”

Only one person is complaining, but it’s a safe bet that more downtown residents are unhappy but don’t voice their complaints publicly. City Council members should take a fresh look at the city’s noise ordinances to see if they properly balance the interests of those who live downtown and those the city wants to entice to play downtown.