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Downtown business owners express concern over draft noise ordinance

Tuesday, September 19, 2023–6:04 p.m.

-David Crowder, WRGA News-

Members of Rome’s Public Safety Committee got their first look at a draft noise ordinance on Tuesday.

According to Sam Lucas with the city attorney’s office, the draft ordinance lays out a more objective measurement for noise and the time periods for enforcement.  For instance, the objective amounts are 300 feet and 100 feet of audible noise.

“Specifically, the 300-foot audible distance would be from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday,” Lucas said. “The other time periods would be 100 feet, kind of more the sensitive and quiet time overnight. There’s an extra hour built into Friday and Saturday. In the downtown business district, that 100-foot distance applies at all times.”

A number of downtown establishments that offer entertainment were represented at Tuesday’s meeting. They are concerned that such an ordinance would mean no amplified music at all downtown.

“I’m not a fan,” said Justin Shepard, operator of River Remedy Brewing. “I think it’s going to compromise a lot of local downtown business. It’s going to basically make it where we cannot have live outdoor music if anyone deems it so. You couldn’t even play an acoustic guitar that’s amplified without getting a noise complaint.”

The issue of noise in the downtown area was brought up during the August 28 Rome City Commission meeting by Mike Schieffer, Bill Harbin, and Ben Levy, all residents of East Fourth Street, who spoke about noise originating from Shepard’s business on Glen Milner Boulevard.

Assistant City Attorney Frank Beacham told the committee that the current ordinance contains vague phrases such as “unreasonably loud,” so the draft ordinance is based on the Georgia Supreme Court case Grady v. Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County in which the court endorsed a “plainly audible” standard.

“So, you get 100 feet away, and it’s plainly audible when it’s a violation during quiet hours,” he said. “If you’re 300 feet away and it’s plainly audible it’s a violation basically any time.”

Beacham added that police agencies and local governments have wasted countless hours trying to measure decibels in order to prove noise violations in court.

Rome Downtown Development Authority Director Aundi Lesley suggested a 60-day pilot program, focusing on enhanced enforcement of the existing ordinance, although she understands it’s more subjective and may be more difficult to defend in court. She added that the draft ordinance unveiled Tuesday would even have an impact on Fiddlin’ Fest.

“I pulled up Google Earth and 100 feet from the stage doesn’t even make it to mid-block,” she said. “So, that does seem unreasonable to me for a vibrant downtown area.”

Assistant Rome City Police Chief Debbie Burnett told the committee that, in general, authorities operate on officer discretion.

“Our officers give grace to these businesses,” she said. “They are trying to make money and they are trying to stay afloat by providing entertainment for residents and visitors to downtown. So yes, we wait until we get a complaint for a business as far as noise is concerned.”

According to Rome City Manager Sammy Rich, the majority of the noise complaints he hears are in relation to automobiles, car audio, and motorcycles.

 “The challenge for us is that we want to have a vibrant downtown, but the whole live, work play concept comes with consequences,” he added. “The live and play parts sometimes come into conflict. I think the magic is trying to find that balance. We could easily regulate ourselves into becoming a ghost town.”

The committee took no action on the draft ordinance which you can read below.