Sequim nixes noise ordinance proposal, repeals existing law

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– After hearing musicians’ worries that it would quell rehearsals, the City Council rejected a proposed new noise law and repealed its existing noise standards.

The council tied 3-to-3 in a vote Monday night on a motion for a proposed ordinance that would have required the use of sound meters to determine decibel levels.

The tie vote meant the motion failed, Sequim City Clerk Karen Kuznek-Reese said.

Council members Genaveve Starr, Ken Hays and Mayor Candace Pratt voted against the meter ordinance, questioning the proposed level of decibels.

“We might be creating a tool for a small handful of people to use against others for reasons that are not entirely fair,” Hays said.

“There’s noises every day that are considerably louder than this.”

Council members Erik Erichsen, Ted Miller and Laura Dubois voted in favor of the proposed rule.

Councilman Dennis Smith was absent from the meeting.

After rejecting the proposed ordinance, the council then voted 5 to 1, with Erichsen in dissent, to repeal the existing noise ordinance.

City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the council’s votes now mean the city is governed by state noise standards, upon which both the rejected and repealed ordinances were based.

Those standards, set by the state Department of Ecology, say noisemakers are in violation if their sound exceeds 55 decibels at another residence more than 50 feet away in residential neighborhoods; 57 decibels in commercial areas.

Those limits are lowered 10 decibels after 10 p.m.

A normal conversational volume is about 55 decibels. Hays said bands often make 90 to 100 decibels.

“Maybe Ecology doesn’t have it right,” Pratt said. “It’s possible these decibel levels are too low.”

The council authorized the purchase of a sound meter to measure noise when complaints are made to police.

That information may be used as local data if the city wants to put together an alternate ordinance.

The city would need approval from Ecology if it wanted to adopt noise rules that are different from the state’s, Ritchie said.

Ritchie said the repealed ordinance’s complaint-based violation standard was indefensible in court because police had to determine whether noise levels were “unreasonable.”

Police Chief Bill Dickinson agreed.

“We’ve got 7,600 people here, and I would say that means we have 7,600 different definitions of what is reasonable,” Dickinson said.

The ordinance rejected by the council would have allowed officers to measure the sound at a neighbor’s house and issue civil infractions for a first offense, with fines escalating for repeat offenses.

That fee schedule is what had musicians like Jon Promer, drummer for the Sequim rock band Jack Havoc, worried.

Promer said he has been subject to a number of police calls because of the noise made by his band practicing in his Fir Street garage.

“If they say it’s exempt from construction, is that because they have to get the job done?” Promer asked. “Being in a band is a job, too.”

Promer added that he has worked out problems with city officials and neighbors like James Martin — who told the council that Promer’s garage band made the “windows on my house rattle” — in the past and likely will do so in the future.

“I don’t want my neighbor to be unhappy, and I never did,” Promer said.

“This is a democracy, and we’re all supposed to live in harmony. Now it’s up to me to keep it down.”

Other musicians and those who run music venues told the council they were worried about the ordinance’s impacts.

“I’m concerned that if it’s enforced, it could have a huge effect on our business,” said Jennifer States, co-owner of Wind Rose Cellars, a wine bar and music venue at 143 W. Washington St.

Jordan Vorhies and Annie Benavidez of the rock band The Estafets said they had shows shut down because of noise in the past and had considered setting up a venue in Sequim but feared the noise ordinance would prevent that.

Dickinson said noise complaints typically come from businesses located next to residential areas.

Last year, the city received a number of complaints about noise from Krush, a Rock Plaza restaurant that recently closed.

Neighbors’ complaints about Krush is what prompted the city’s review of its noise ordinance.

Although officers did repeatedly ask Krush to keep its noise down, Dickinson said they never issued citations.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 11. 2014 6:37PM
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