Residents ask city to balance business with peace.
Cities change. And they often change faster than the laws and ordinances designed to help them function can keep up.
A case in point is the City of Chattanooga’s noise ordinance, last revised in 2002—which doesn’t seem that long ago, but neighborhoods and businesses have evolved and been created and now updates are needed.
Homeowners on the Southside have brought the issue publicly to the fore with problems about noise from Track 29 shows. But as Peggy Petrey, one of the homeowners, explains, it’s much bigger than one club.
“My biggest concern, outside handling our immediate rights to quiet, is that this process [revising the noise ordinance] should be one that does not focus on one venue, but on all types of venues, from mega-churches to tiny bars and even gas stations with a lot of action,” she says.
Petrey notes that Mayor Andy Berke’s “Chattanooga Forward” initiative includes among its six task forces one devoted to “entertainment and attractions.”
“Chattanooga Forward should be forward thinking, so we don’t have yet another incomplete ordinance that needs to be revised,” she says. “[It should address] the city’s desire to have an entertainment ‘district’ and how the ordinance would apply to the new venues.”
Southside resident Kerrick Johnson has been researching how other cities, including Austin, Texas have dealt with this issue. “Acoustic engineers tell me there is no silver bullet,” he says. Austin, however, has instituted a low-cost loan program that allows venues to insulate and buy permanent equipment appropriate to their individual spaces. “One major problem is that the touring shows bring in equipment designed for amphitheatres and use it in our much smaller venues,” he says.
Like Petrey, he is eager to see the city tackle the issue in a way that deals with enforcement as well as regulation. “The police have other things to do than visit a venue several times in one night,” he says. Johnson also believes the city needs to re-address venues that have not been properly noise-insulated—and make sure the penalties for repeated offenses are strengthened.
(It should be mentioned that the noise ordinance also covers too-loud car stereos, and fireworks, which except for New Year’s Eve, are not legal after 11:30 p.m. Currently, these provisions are virtually unenforceable.)
Decisions on changes will be up to the city council, and council members are weighing the options in advance of discussing the issue in a couple of weeks.
“The challenge is one of balance,” Councilperson Carol Berz points out. “In my mind nothing outweighs the right to quiet enjoyment of home. However, this right must be tempered with the reality of the sometimes-close proximity of business to residential neighborhoods. I do not think one size fits all; thus any ordinance must be carefully crafted to include the variety of circumstances in which inappropriate noise interferes with life.”