Steamboat's noise control laws complex

Police captain says many factors play into volume violations

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— Little is certain about potential revisions to a city noise ordinance or how those revisions could affect downtown businesses — but, if nothing else, improved equipment for enforcement is in place.

“We do have a new decibel meter and we have two Police Department employees who are trained on the use of that meter,” Capt. Joel Rae, of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, said last week. “This one has an ability to keep track of noise levels literally for hours at a time.”

Rae said the new meter was acquired in December and provides a digital readout of decibel levels. The city’s old meter had a needle that moved over a decibel scale in a manner that made tracking data difficult. Rae said the new meter can be plugged into a computer to create a graph of noise levels throughout a sustained period of time, allowing officers to account for extenuating circumstances such as passing trains, creek noise, diesel trucks and more.

Even with the new equipment, Rae said, enforcement of any new noise ordinance would be a complex task involving many factors, including the subjectivity of people’s differing reactions to any particular noise level. He said enforcement would require “somebody who is being truly disturbed,” coupled with noise louder than a set limit.

Sixty decibels, for example, is about as loud as normal conversation. It’s the allowable nighttime noise level in Aspen, Vail and Denver’s LoDo district. It’s also five decibels louder than Steamboat Springs’ current nighttime noise limit of 55 decibels.

Rae said from an enforcement perspective, a new ordinance would need to clearly set acceptable noise levels, limits and measurement procedures.

“It’s obvious that our current noise ordinances need to be thoroughly looked at and updated, because what we have in place does not work for enforcement,” Rae said. “I think City Council has their work cut out for them to find out what’s best.”

The Steamboat Springs De­­­p­­­art­­­­ment of Planning and Com­munity Devel­opment is reviewing noise regulations in municipalities across the country and working to draft revisions to Steamboat’s noise regulations. Those revisions could come before city officials in public hearings in April.

But no specific timetable for that public process has been set, as debate continues about nighttime noise levels and how to mitigate conflicting desires of businesses and residents along the Lincoln Avenue corridor and at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

The issue escalated in summer after a citation for the Ghost Ranch Saloon on Seventh Street. The bar and live music venue is across the street from Howelsen Place, a residential and commercial development. At least one homeowner there filed noise complaints that, at least in part, led to the Ghost Ranch citation.

Homeowners in the base area Clock Tower Square building are appealing the liquor license for the new location of the Powder Room nightclub, which is planning to open on the building’s ground level. Clock Tower homeowners are concerned about excessive noise from the Powder Room, which left its previous location in Torian Plum Plaza after homeowner complaints about noise there.

Rae, Police Chief JD Hays and Tracy Barnett, of Main­street Steamboat Springs, traveled to Denver in June for a forum by the California-based Responsible Hospitality Insti­tute, to learn about resolving such noise conflicts. The city then contributed $2,000 to bring institute members to Steamboat in September.

“The main reason we got involved with the Responsible Hospitality Institute … is to look for other alternatives for people who want to be in those mixed-use areas,” Rae said.

Steamboat Springs City Council member Jon Quinn said, in his view, enforcement of a new noise ordinance should not occur in cases of incidental violations.

“This would be one of those things that if there were recurring incidents and complaints … we’d see if somebody is in violation on a consistent basis,” Quinn said last week. “Really, we’re talking about a sustained level of noise.”

Rae said that sort of app­roach could leave the door open to subjectivity.

“There’s a violation and there’s not,” Rae said. “I’d like to look for permanent resolutions.”

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Agnew 3 years, 1 month ago

An interesting note in the case of the Powder Room was that a noise complaint was not made to the city police (or if it was, did not warrant police action as the police did not come to the business during the 4th of July weekend in question). Instead, the complaints were filed with the home owner's association. HOAs have far greater latitude in defining what constitutes excessive noise and enforcing the violation of noise restrictions as defined in their covenants. Enforcement in these situations is totally subjective and gives the power of economic failure or success of a business to the aggrieved party. Howelson Place, Torian Plum, Clocktower, One Steamboat Place, The Steamboat Grand, Alpenglow, the Victoria, etc. all have restrictive covenants in place that work to keep businesses that they may find offensive out of their mixed use developments. The city's ordinance and the enforcement of such should take into account the needs and desires of the community as a whole and should reflect the diverse age differences, demographics and tastes in entertainment of the population as a whole. Just because an individual has reached an age and/or economic status that allows her or him to purchase a million dollar plus condominium should not give her or him the right to impose their personal values upon all of society.

More than likely there was a point where the entertainment that they now vilify was an important part of their lives. The Ghost Ranch is not loud every night of the week, nor is any late night entertainment place in this city, but a black and white enforcement of a decibel level that reflects a normal conversation between two people, or of every complaint that police receive will have adverse affects upon the tax revenue of our city and of the reputation of Steamboat as a resort community.

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Jesiah Canady 3 years, 1 month ago

I agree scottagnew! I would hope in a time when financial cuts will be ruling our local government we would be aware of the considerable costs to our police department should they be required to enforce an already extreme ordinance.

I find it a little funny on Mr. Lawrences part to mention the decibel level ordinance for LoDo. When I lived in downtown Denver and spent many a night walking home from that end of town, the police officers that I saw were not enforcing a noise ordinance at anytime.

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Jon Quinn 3 years, 1 month ago

One thing which is important to point out is that when the decibel level is measured it is measured at a minimum of 50' from the establishment. It is terribly misleading to say that this restricts noise levels from normal conversations, or from the yampa river. Obviously sound dissapates as it travels over distance. The noise level inside a concert may be 140db or higher and still be in compliance, assuming that the establishment has reasonably mitigated the noise, as is their responsibility.

This is just about making mixed use work for everyone. Compromises will be made on both sides, but we can make this work. It is important that the conversation include a balance of all interests, and it is especially important that the conversation be based on FACTS, not hyperbole and outright lies.

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JWorsty 3 years, 1 month ago

If we want to deal in FACTS City Council Member John Quinn should do some homework. FACTS are that 140 db would make your ears bleed and you would be rendered deaf. Instead of letting a few misled members of the community decide what "works for everyone", let the citizens decide. Put it on the November ballot and we will see what "works for everyone".

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jk 3 years, 1 month ago

So what is the decibel level when a loaded coal train cruises past the 5th street bridge with bells ringing and horns blazing? Since our precious little condo owners can handle that maybe it should be factored in??

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

I live just above Tamarack and I don't understand how I can hear the noise from events at Howelson all the time and have never heard anything from Ghost Ranch and yet Ghost Ranch is the one getting cited.

Considering the mitigation efforts that have been made by Ghost Ranch, I think the city should first perform tests around the Ghost Ranch when it has concerts to be sure any new ordinance allows Ghost Ranch to operate normally.

It is hypocritical for the City to talk about the need to provide nightlife for tourists and being friendly to businesses (see Walgreens vote) while also making it impossible to operate a live music venue.

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Jon Quinn 3 years, 1 month ago

Actually a jet engine from 100' away is about 140db. Hearing tissue dies at 180db. I looked it up. How bout you Worsty...? :)

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Brian Smith 3 years, 1 month ago

What a great place for an elected official to debate his view and attack other peoples opinions, in the papers online forum. Classy. You can count on my vote next time your up councilman Quinn...not.

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Jon Quinn 3 years, 1 month ago

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not afraid of some loud music. In fact I'd wager that I am probably the most sympathetic to the bars amongst the council. But the point here folks is that you are not going to find anyone who is going to simply say that in a mixed use environment that the residential owners simply have no say whatsoever. Compromise is part of living in a community and in a neighborhood. The residents will be impacted by the commercial, and yes, the commercial interests will also be impacted by the neighboring residential units. It's not rocket science, and all we are asking both sides to do is to be good neighbors.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

A jet engine at 100' can cause immediate permanent hearing damage.

Looks like as low as 120 decibels can rupture an ear drum and a ruptured ear drum can cause bleeding in the ear. People can become unconscious at 130 db.

So JWorsty would appear to be correct to suggest that 140 decibels could make your ears bleed and cause deafness. And that Jon Quinn is factually incorrect to suggest the noise level inside a concert could be 140 db.

As for Jon Quinn's suggest of asking both sides to be good neighbors, what about all the efforts made by Ghost Ranch? What else are they supposed to do? All the residents of Howelson Place have to do is close their windows a couple nights a week if they don't like the music or install sound absorbing drapes or such.

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Jon Quinn 3 years, 1 month ago

I am terribly sorry to have started this thread. I will concede any points you guys wish to make regarding the dB level at which ears bleed. I am not a sound engineer and am sure I am wrong. Google can only take me so far on that issue! No worries there, you win.

You are still missing the larger point I am trying to get across. When we look at a noise ordinance revision, and again it is important to emphasize we are looking at increasing the level which is currently allowed, you have to take into account the distance at which the reading is gauged. People talk at 55-60dB... my wife maybe 65, but most people at 60. That reading is taken standing right next to those people. Move 50 feet away and you get a much different reading, would you not agree? What we are talking about is the relative noise in somebody's bedroom or living room. If you can hear the party or the band next door at the same volume as if people were conversing right next to your bed, is that too loud? Hmmm... yes!

As much as the Ghost Ranch would like to make this about them alone, it is a much broader issue and these conflicts have been going on for many years. The loss of vitality at the base area is heart breaking to me. I fell in love with a Steamboat with ear shattering shows at Inferno, Levels, and Tugboat. I would personally vote against any developer who came in with a ski time square rebuild which does not include replacing that vitality.

Bottom line is that Steamboat contains residents and businesses and they have to live in the same spaces. There have to be some more reasonable guidelines adopted to assist residential and commercial interests develop spaces which work for the community in which they are built. Nobody is interested in shutting down bars or tamping down our nightlife, quite the oppossite I would say. But there do have to be some boundaries.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

Jon, When you start off arguing "facts" that are not facts then it is easy to lose track of your larger point. I don't where you ended up on Google because it quickly led me to sites that supported JWorsty.

What you are minimizing is that Ghost Ranch is in downtown core. The neighboring residential units is what is out of character and now suddenly the commercial area is expected to conform to rules appropriate to a residential neighborhood.

Thus, the standard should not be whether commercial activity in a commercial district might upset some residents of that area. If those residents do not like commercial activity outside their windows then they should not live in a commercial district.

The standard should be whether the commercial activity in the commercial district is according to general practices (or improved general practices) and if so then tough luck to the residential units.

What next? The exhaust vents of any number of downtown restaurants could blow into downtown residential units and could be extremely unpleasant to residents that are vegetarians. Are those restaurants and neighbors all supposed to get along and share the same space? No, downtown residents should expect noise and smells, and should only live downtown if they accept that stuff.

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Jon Quinn 3 years, 1 month ago

So exactly what does "general practices" mean then Scott? Right now in Steamboat that means that businesses must comply with the city's existing codes and ordinances. That means they must keep noise levels under 55dB. That was the regulatory environment in which the Ghost Ranch built its business and in which they currently operate.

You pretty much summed it up when you say "tough luck to the residential units." That seems to be the message I am getting from everyone in this blog. Perhaps there should be no noise limit whatsoever, or if there is one it should be measured by turning up the million dollar sound system at Ghost Ranch to 11 and setting the limit there. I hope you can all understand and appreciate that the city has got to strike a better balance than that.

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peevla 3 years, 1 month ago

This noise complaint stuff is so old hat. Back in 2000 when the city decided to allow plowing through the night they ruined old town for me. I believe Steamboat living would be greatly enhanced if plow companies complied with noise ordinances.
I was driven from my home by these heavy equipment tractors converted to plow trucks that are being allowed to operate commercially at any time of the evening...
The backing up siren from these babies can peirce armor from 100 yards.

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Brian Smith 3 years, 1 month ago

peevla, it is pretty clear from all the talk, if it is the city, or a city sponsored event, noise is perfectly fine...I imagine Howelsen Place is built so well, they don't hear snow plow activities, only music, or they choose only music to complain about. I am sure the garbage trucks pay extra particular attention to go quietly down the alley between the two buildings when trash needs to be removed. Can't wait to see what happens when they actually have someone move in on Yampa, I am sure the activites (noise) at Sunpies in the summer is also going to become an issue. Getting at Scott's point, we here a lot about both sides need to work this out, what is it that Howelsen Place is doing other than complaining? Shutting your windows would be a good start.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

Jon Quinn, Well, turning the sound system to 140 decibels would not be standard practices, but around 100 decibels would be normal.

Standard practices would be things like properly designed sound system and sound insulation and such. Basically, have they done the normal stuff to mitigate the sound?

As it has been noted elsewhere, just because a city has a decibel limit of 60 does not mean that level is enforced in the downtown area. If the city has any intent on enforcing 60 decibels which is a reasonable residential standard in the downtown commercial area then it will be the end of downtown nightlife.

It is not reasonable or viable for the commercial district to be expected to conform to a residential noise standard.

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Jon Quinn 3 years, 1 month ago

Scott, I'm sorry but that is just nonsense. As has been pointed out, many communities that are similar to our own have a thriving night life scene with an enforced level of around 60 or 65 dB. If the establishments cannot mitigate the noise they create to that level, they will need to take additional measures to reduce the sound they put out. It's just that simple.

Owning property comes with both rights and responsibilities. It would be totally inappropriate for any government to artificially elevate the interests of one group over another. You all seem to reject the idea that compromise can work. I will tell you that compromise is the only thing that will work. We all have choices in life; however, one of the choices is not whether or not the rules apply to you. If you choose to do business in Steamboat, then you choose to follow the same rules as everyone else.

I hope that the we have a strong turnout at the meeting when this comes up. I hope that you all come with an open mind and are mindful of the responsibility we all have to live together and work through these issues. That is what good neighbors do.

Thank you for the conversation.

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Brian Smith 3 years, 1 month ago

You really think other cities enforce the 60 - 65 dB? Seriously? I have left Steamboat once or twice, went to Fort Collins, Vail, Aspen, LoDo and I am pretty sure they were not enforcing any of these levels. Wonder what kind of revenue the city would loose if the only real music venue in town would have to close down. Has the council considered that? Hearing a lot about being "good neighbors and compromise"...what is Howelsen Place doing to be good neighbors (other than complaining), and what compromise are they making?

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jk 3 years, 1 month ago

Jon, If you are the most sympathetic, among our council members, to the volume of our downtown nightlife I am fearful it will soon be lost! You state "Owning property comes with both rights and responsibilities." yet you fail to understand the people who purchased condos should have had the responsibility of understanding where they were making their purchase.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

I note that the the rules were not applied when Ghost Ranch sought permission to open because none of the nightspots around town would have consistently met the existing noise ordinance of 55 dB.

And your comments continually ignore the efforts that have been made by Ghost Ranch including spending on additional soundproofing and modifying their sound system. Seems to me that they have made serious efforts to compromise and mitigate. They no longer have much room to further compromise other than ceasing operations.

There should be rules, but the rules should be what is normal for a commercial area with nightlife, not what is normal for a residential neighborhood.

And good neighbors do not call the police and pursue a nuisance code violation of the neighboring live music business.

There are situations where the needed decision is to do what is right and just. There are situations that compromise only prolongs and complicates the situation. Changing the noise limit from 55 dB to 60 dB or even 65 dB is no compromise if the only way to meet that is for Ghost Ranch to turn the volume too low for interest concert goers to show up, or is at a level which allows too much noise for the residents. I think it is likely that whatever solution is chosen is going to seen by those involved as having direct winners and losers even if you try to claim it is some sort of compromise.

It would appear you are suggesting that an ordinance at 60 dB which is enforced at 65 dB might work. Well, that might work for Ghost Ranch because that is 10 times louder than current ordinance, but I'd be surprised if that worked for the complaining residence because their complaints of noise includes hearing people talk. And even talking loudly is unlikely to exceed 65 dB measured 50 feet away.

And please do not make 60 dB, enforced at 65 dB the standard for the residential areas because I do not want to be hearing conversations from a neighbor's parties as if I am 3 feet away when trying to go to bed.

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exduffer 3 years, 1 month ago

All I know is that $2000 would have bought a lot of earplugs.

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callguinness 3 years, 1 month ago

I would like to know what the the noise levels currently being found 50 feet away from the Ghost Ranch? This would be key information to have if we are going to argue about this at all. The article discusses the fact that the police have this new measuring device and have people trained to use it, so I hope it is set up and reading the current db levels 50 feet away from the ghost ranch. Obviously directly across from the 7th street entrance would be the best spot for this.

Peevla- As to the comment about plowing... That is a have your cake and eat it too problem. I have spent all 28 years of my life in steamboat and I think that snow removal operations are just part of being here. Glad you found a place to live that they aren't removing snow through the middle of the night. For me, that sound has always been welcome. I am either going to get to ski powder, or I'm going to work, because of the tourist that are here for the powder, always a win win, with snow in steamboat.

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