Seeking peace and quiet on noise issue in Steamboat
Police captain says flexibility remains under new proposal
April 9, 2011
Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said last week that proposed changes to city noise regulations would not change levels of enforcement.
"Basically, there needs to be a victim when we're talking about enforcing the noise ordinance. We are not going to be driving down the streets with our decibel meters," Rae said. "Noise violations are complaint-based — they will have to be here. We will have to have contact with them. … We're not going to take a complaint from a lady calling from Florida."
Rae's comments followed a contentious Tuesday night meeting in Centennial Hall, where Steamboat Springs City Council discussed potential revisions to the city's noise regulations. No action was taken and the talks will continue next month, potentially leading to a revised ordinance that would enter the formal city approval process.
Proposed changes to city regulations would increase the allowable level of nighttime noise in commercial areas and decrease the amount of hours designated as nighttime, while affirming the potential for continued violations to impact a business's liquor license.
A passionate crowd attended last week's meeting to express concerns about potential business impacts from noise regulations and to support lesser restrictions, or even outright exemptions, for commercial areas.
Rae said some of the comments he heard Tuesday, though, such as the suggestion that noise complaints could be phoned in from out of the state, were misleading.
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"Unless City Council gives staff different direction than we have been receiving, our enforcement is strictly going to be complaint-based," he said. "We have to have a complaining party there."
The problem, Ghost Ranch Saloon co-owner Amy Garris said Thursday, is that even noise complaints made in person are too often unfounded.
"I hope that council and the city are smart enough to make an ordinance that protects commercial areas from frivolous complaints," Garris said. "And that's the only kind of complaints that are coming in right now."
Proposed changes assess a minimum fine of $250 for a business's first violation, $500 for the second and $999 for the third violation and beyond.
Rae said police would continue to act with flexibility, leaving the potential to simply issue warnings or work with people involved to resolve complaints without a citation.
"That's what we do right now," he said. "We get noise complaints all the time."
Rae said Steamboat residents routinely call police at night if a neighbor's barking dog or late-night party, for example, is too loud.
"Probably 95 percent of those calls are resolved" without a citation, he said.
"This is no different. No different at all," Rae continued, referring to revised noise regulations. "Yes, we'll be working with those (situations) and using the best discretion and common sense that applies to each individual situation."
Ghost Ranch and Howelsen Place, a commercial and residential development across Seventh Street from the saloon, have been central players in noise debates that intensified last summer and have continued through fall and winter.
Business owners and residents downtown and near the base of Steamboat Ski Area have been involved in ongoing city attempts to mitigate the conflicts.
Noise complaints regarding Ghost Ranch have come from Howelsen Place on more than one occasion.
Mark Scully, managing director of Howelsen Place developers Green Courte Partners, said he'll soon be dealing with the same noise regulation issues as Garris.
"We're putting in a new restaurant in Howelsen Place, across (Yampa Street) from Cottonwood Grill," Scully said Thursday. "We're real close to signing a lease."
Scully said the restaurant, which he described as "a nice sports bar," could open in mid- to late-summer and will have a stage for live music, in the same building as residential units that have been a focal point of noise regulation discussions.
"We're going to comply with all the same things we're proposing," Scully said, referring to noise levels.
Green Courte Partners also is the developer of Alpen Glow at Lincoln Avenue and Sixth Street and future mixed-use projects including Riverwalk, along the Yampa River near Third Street, and 751 Yampa, between Sweetwater Grill and Sunpie's Bistro.
Scully noted that those projects will be affected by the same noise regulations as every other city business.
"I would submit that we'll have more restaurant/bars than anybody, over time," Scully said. "I wouldn't agree with something that wouldn't be workable."
City Council President Cari Hermacinski said last week that the next public discussion of city noise regulations is tentatively scheduled for May 17.
Garris said she and others advocating for the nighttime business community could be proposing higher allowable decibel levels, the removal of language that potentially ties repeated noise violations to liquor licenses, and some form of increased accountability for those who make noise complaints.
"We've got a good group going, and we're going to probably present a sample ordinance to council next time around, if council doesn't come up with one," Garris said. "I think we're taking steps in the right direction, for sure."
To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com