Urban areas get second shot at increasing noise levels
Sounds at events in Bethesda could reach up to 75 decibels
Musicians at the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival jammed a little too loud in May, prompting complaints from neighbors that coincide with a potential change in law for noise levels in urban areas.
Outdoor arts and entertainment activities in downtown Bethesda, Wheaton and Silver Spring could reach volumes of 75 decibels roughly the level of sound a vacuum cleaner makes between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Standards now allow a volume of 67 decibels during the day and 62 decibels during the night in non-residential areas. Conversation speech ranges around 60 decibels.
Municipalities can also designate areas, and the county executive can designate any other areas.
At the request of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring introduced the bill May 18. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled at 1:30 p.m. June 14 at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville.
A county bill requested a year ago by the Strathmore Hall Foundation Inc. to preserve its outdoor concert series passed May 18, increasing noise standards to 75 decibels between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The new bill for urban areas follows suit.
The new bill allows for public input, which County Council Vice President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac said makes the approach more reasonable.
"I do believe that it is important for our urban districts to be able to provide entertainment, but not at a noise level that disturbs the community," Berliner said. "And since we feel like we have achieved that balance roughly in Strathmore, I am hopeful that the same balance will occur for the urban districts."
Some residents of Triangle Towers complained during the arts festival May 14 and 15 because an entertainment stage was outside their building on Del Ray Avenue.
From May 2010 through April 2011, the Montgomery County Police Department received 138 calls from downtown Bethesda that were classified as noise complaints when they came in, said Angela Cruz, police department spokeswoman.
In a formal complaint to Berliner, Amy Doll, a Triangle Towers resident, said she experienced a serious noise problem from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 14, and from 9:45 a.m. to nearly 5 p.m. May 15.
"On Del Ray Avenue, literally right under my apartment windows, [Bethesda Urban Partnership's] entertainment stage had around a half-dozen commercial size amplifiers that played high-volume music during the lengthy period on Saturday and Sunday noted above," she said in her formal complaint.
Doll contacted the partnership and Southern Management Corporation, the company that manages Triangle Towers, with her complaint, a sentiment she said others in her building felt as well.
Both groups were receptive to the complaints.
Partnership representatives want to strike a balance between providing good music during festivals and respecting residents, said Stephanie Coppula, director of marketing and communications at the partnership, a group that markets downtown Bethesda and produces cultural events and festivals for the community.
"Even if legislation is in place and says you can go to a certain decibel level, we'll still work with our community," Coppula said.
Partnership representatives told residents who complained about noise levels that the entertainment stage would not be located near residential properties at next year's festival, Coppula said.
The noise complaint, Coppula said, was one of the first the partnership has received in a long time.
"I think music greatly enhances an event," she said. "But we have to have a middle ground."