Steamboat noise issue raises bigger problems
July 20, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The city of Steamboat Springs is taking to heart a suggestion that it consider amending its building code to make new construction less susceptible to noise.
Powder Room bar owner Scott Agnew raised the issue during Tuesday's City Council meeting, which was dominated by discussion and eventual passage of a revised noise ordinance that has pitted downtown bar and entertainment venue owners against some of their residential neighbors.
The revised noise ordinance raised the allowable noise in commercial areas from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 60 decibels. The previous nighttime limit was 55 decibels. The ordinance also now has an enforcement structure that includes fines for businesses found to be in violation of permissible noise levels.
Agnew's point to council members was that Steamboat has a bigger issue looming with the city's emphasis on mixed-use development.
Traditionally, bars and entertainment venues have enjoyed a buffer area from residential areas. But that is changing.
"As we move forward into the future, into redevelopment of the base area and into the development downtown, that distance is going to shorten, to distances like I have, which are 20 to 25 feet," Agnew said about his bar located in Clock Tower Square at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
City Planning Director Tyler Gibbs said he'll research whether communities across the country have adopted code changes that specifically address noise issues. He acknowledged that more mixed-use developments in Steamboat are likely.
"Really that's the way most of our towns and cities were before zoning started separating things out," Gibbs said. "Most communities across the country, if they're healthy and vibrant, are seeing this type of mixed-use development."
Gibbs said that will be especially true at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area, where many visitors prefer restaurants, retail and nightlife to be close to their lodging.
Routt County Building Department Official Carl Dunham, whose staff is contracted by the city to provide inspection and other services, said some requirements of the 2006 International Building Code help block or keep in noise. The city and county use the model building code, which also includes local amendments.
The code's requirement for insulation, windows and fire-resistant walls help with noise issues, Dunham said. He said the code requires that buildings for "assembly uses" and at least 3,000 square feet in size also are required to have vestibules that can help keep noise from escaping.
Dunham added that the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code, which the city and county adopted in 2008, created stricter standards like requiring more insulation to make new construction more energy efficient.
Gibbs said some of the local amendments to the code for insulation and windows that were adopted because of Steamboat's climate also help with noise reduction. He said staff also could work with bar and entertainment venue developers during the planning process to make sure doors and windows don't face residential areas.
The revised noise ordinance passed by the council Tuesday creates a fine schedule that starts with a warning and goes to $250 for the second offense, $500 for the third offense and $999 for the fourth and subsequent offenses. Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said noise would have to exceed the allowable level by at least 3 decibels to make a case in court.
Gibbs said he'll report what he learned about other community's building codes to the City Council and get their feedback about whether it's appropriate to add anything to Steamboat's building code. The City Council is scheduled to review the revised noise ordinance in three months and six months.
"This isn't something that just gets passed and we presume everything works out and is fine," Gibbs said. "We'll make sure this is accomplishing what we want it to accomplish. With mixed-use, the nightlife, the retail, the restaurants being part of the same walkable area is really key to our success."
To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com