John Scarffe, Nederland. Nederland residents packed the Nederland Community Center Multi-Purpose room at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 21, to discuss a proposed noise ordinance during a regular meeting of the Nederland Board of Trustees. Town Administrator Alisha Reis, at her last meeting in that position, told the Board that the Town’s first noise ordinance was initially adopted in 1948 and was updated in 1999.
In July 2011, the Board updated the ordinance and established the 105 decibel upper limit, Reis said. Between 2015 and 2016, the Town experienced a 106 percent increase in noise complaints — from 16 to 33 complaints, respectively, during those summers. At the direction of the Board last October, the Town Attorney drafted an ordinance to amend Nederland Municipal Code Chapter 10 related to noise.
“Town staff assisted with development of the ordinance, including reviewing the ability to enforce the ordinance, based upon direction given by the Board at its discussion on October 4, 2016, following testimony from residents at that meeting and one prior,” according to background.
Residents on First Street addressed the Board in the fall of 2016 about noise from a site in their neighborhood at 100 E. First Street after a summer wedding at the parking lot, owned by local landowner Ron Mitchell. They expressed concerns about ongoing events and the potential for noise.
The July 2011 noise code established the upper limit by variance of 105 decibels for noises such as live rock music or a table saw. The upper limit for sound without a variance permit is 72 decibels for noises such as a vacuum cleaner or lawnmower, according to background.
The previous upper limit, established by the 1999 ordinance, for all sound was 80 decibels (dBA) for noises such as a garbage disposal or freight train, regulated by zoning district, according to background. The 80dBA upper limit was permitted only in the Industrial zoning district. The limit in business zones was 65 dBA for noises such as office sounds or air conditioning units, and in residential zones, it was 55 dBA for noises such as conversation or refrigerators.
At the October 4 meeting, the Board directed that a new ordinance include amendments that re-institute decibel limits based on zoning districts and time of day. The Board also asked to authorize noise enforcement by empirical decibel measuring and the more traditional, and less empirical, nuisance-like annoyance standard, according to background.
The Board also directed staff to give additional detail to the noise variance permit issue, specifying grounds for the Town administrator to deny, suspend or revoke permits, which was lacking in previous ordinances, according to background. The Board also wanted to take into consideration neighbor notification, festivals versus private events, impacts of events on private property and whether an event has a public benefit, business considerations and possible limits to numbers of permits issued per year.
Reis told the Board that the upper limit of sound may be exceeded if a permit has been issued. The ordinance from 1999 did have limits for permits issued. This proposed ordinance reduces the limit without a permit to 65 from 72 dBA.
Permits may be issued for music festivals and events up to 105 dBA, in line with special events permitting, as is currently the process, Reis said. Special permitting doesn’t change at all and retains exemptions from previous ordinances. The primary changes are decibel limits and differentiating between residential and commercial areas.
Town Marshal Paul Carrill said that when he learned about the interest from the public in this issue, he put together an informational email. “As I sorted through this, I learned there is a significant amount of misinformation out there.”
Carrill’s email states that a Police Officer’s “peace” cannot be disturbed, so a Nederland Police Officer cannot be a complainant on a simple nuisance or noise issue.
Typically, by applying community policing concepts, neighbor mediation and officer discretion, such as no tickets for little kids’ parties, momentary celebrations or momentary noise due to circumstances beyond a person’s control, most noise complaints are handled by the police with mediation between neighbors.
“This is by far the way most nuisance/noise complaints are handled, particularly since most neighbors do not wish to sign a complaint (summons/ticket) against their neighbor. This may or may not result in a written warning ticket,” according to the email.
If a neighbor is tired of the noise and it meets the elements of the current town’s ordinances, and they’re willing to sign a complaint, then an officer can issue the ticket with the complainant’s signature and a promise to attend court to testify against the defendant. “The Officer will assign a court date for both parties to attend, and the Municipal Judge will make the final determination,” Carrill wrote.
The Nederland Police Office has a Quest Technologies Sound Meter. This meter has and will be used during those permitted or unpermitted events or situations where a complaint has been received.
“It has been the Marshal’s experience that during two recent complaints (music festivals with permits) where the meter has been used, in both situations the meter reading was below the 105 dBA for a permitted event,” Carrill wrote. “Even though the reading was below the 105 dBA and applying community policing concepts, neighbor mediation and officer discretion, the Marshal asked the event coordinator to manage the sound. In both cases, the event coordinators complied.”
Carrill noted: “It’s been suggested that the NPD should randomly and routinely patrol the streets of Nederland with the sound meter and conduct ‘sound checks’ of any area the Officer deems ‘noisy.’ It is the current Marshal’s position that although certain noises can be annoying, it is not a priority public safety issue, and with limited staffing and resources, the NPD will continue to prioritize its time and staff to address primary public safety issues (traffic, disturbances, crimes against persons, crimes against property, etc.).”
Carrill summarized the email for the Board, and then said: “The current ordinances you have are enforceable. Police have been enforcing them, so the statement that we’re not doing anything is inaccurate. When we show up, our peace can’t be disturbed, so someone has to fill out a complaint.”
Trustee Julie Gustafson said: “I think the biggest thing for me is the number of emails I’ve received as a trustee opposing changing the ordinance. There aren’t as many changes as people think there are.”
Gustafson said it is difficult to understand and read the new ordinance. A lot of people in their emails put the problem on the police department. “If you are bothered by a party or whatever, you have to be able to follow up on that.”
During the event on First Street, the neighbors didn’t complain to the Police Department, so that’s why we can’t go back and get evidence, Gustafson said. “I prefer to stay with the exiting ordinance we have.”
Trustee Kevin Mueller asked that, out of the106 percent increase, what percentage was due to festivals and other events.
Carrill replied that, in 2015, six warnings were issued for barking dogs and two tickets were written for dogs. In 2016, five written warnings were issued, two for dogs, two for other noises and one for music.
Mueller said: “I’m not in favor of changing anything at all. I feel like there wasn’t enough time. Let’s table this right now and stay with the existing ordinance.”
Trustee Stephanie Miller agreed and said she didn’t have adequate time to study the new ordinance.
Because of the incident that happened last summer, the Board’s knee jerk reaction was to change the ordinance, she said. “Something the 2011 ordinance doesn’t have is time limits and area limits.”
The Board looked at noise ordinances from other towns, Miller said. Nederland’s limit is 72 dBA. Others range from 55, and places that also have music venues have a base of 60 dBA, so 72 might be a bit high.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s the right fit for us. I am not convinced that we shouldn’t make modest changes to get it more in line with the rest of the state,” Miller said. “This has kind of become what we feared it would become and is detracting from some immediate things we need to take care of.”
In response to a question from Mayor Pro-Tem Charles Wood, Carrill said that, in 2015, 16 complaints were received. In 2016, 33 complaints were received with three going to tickets. The Town received one music complaint in two years that went to summons.
Wood said: “I do have a feeling that the Board took this on in response to citizens. The people came and complained a month after it [the wedding] happened. That was resolved quickly and the property owner agreed not to have events there. I think that was just a neighbor complaint. I have to agree with the other three.”
Trustee Topher Donahue said: “I do have issues with noise in Nederland — the crows attacking my gutters. I live right next to the festivals and hear them. I support the music in this town.
“I was at the complaint session following the wedding, and noise was only one complaint: signage, future events, someone stealing someone else’s rocks. It was a very complicated issue, and the landowner hired a mediator. I was really impressed that he went out of the way to listen. He was completely in his rights, but he was interested in adjusting what he did. I voted against even having this conversation tonight.”
Mayor Kristopher Larsen said this is probably not going very far tonight. He asked for, and received, a nod of four to bring this up when the Board doesn’t have as many critical things on the agenda.
During public comment, 11 residents addressed the Board. First Street resident Theresa Robinson said she was speaking on behalf of several others on First Street. “We studied the issue and advocated for a change. I work nights.” In the summer she’d like to have her windows open, but the noise was so loud.
“Over the 17 years I’ve lived in the neighborhood, the music events have increased. Every weekend there is amplified music from three for four different venues.
“I can’t enjoy being in my back yard, so I guess I’m going to be calling more so you have the data you need. You can’t say we deserve it because we live in that part of town. I would really encourage that more be done on the process. I would like us to have something in line with Boulder County. We all need to work together.”
First Street parking lot owner Ron Mitchell thanked the Board for acknowledging what he did in discussing the wedding situation with his neighbors. Parks normally have events. The noise complaint came a month after the wedding, and that was because he named his park Performing Arts Park. “I want the town to be a better place than when I came here.”
Resident Peter Fiori said he served on three boards of trustees and as mayor pro-tem. He has a degree in sound technology from the University of Colorado and owns Sweet Wave Audio, which produces Nederland events and the Caribou Room. “You will be opening yourself up to quite a bit of liability if you go under 72.” Fiori sang into a microphone with a sound meter to demonstrate the sound level of 65 dBA.
Former Trustee Randy Lee encouraged the Board to lower the limits at some point. “It’s that bass that penetrates your walls, and you can’t shut it down. Imagine Peter singing two feet away from you as you’re going about your day, and you’re trying to read a book or carry on a conversation and it’s a constant distraction. I wouldn’t write this off and say, no, we don’t need to anything.”
Tanya Bokat said: “We have community events that I love. Music is a thing to share. We measured the creek last year and it measured at 65 dBA. I enjoy the music. We are proponents of music. I am for it and I will fight for it.”
Amanda MacDonald, organizer of the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days, said: “We have all these different perspectives and we try to work it out. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the costs. We can make adjustments and will continue to make adjustments. The event is so important, and the music is so important. I hope we can continue to work together and have it be a really awesome place.”
Mayor Larsen said he received about 50 emails and thanked everyone who sent them. He said it sounds like this a longer discussion. Donahue moved to table the ordinance indefinitely, and the motion passed.
Gustafson said, “It’s important that we summarize this and communicate it to the broader community.