The good news is that a rewrite is in process. The bad news is that it's more complicated than just tweaking a few decibel levels and calling it good.
As you may be aware, the current limitation on entertainment venues is that they not allow any activity that will "generate sound or noise that exceeds ninety-two (92) decibels, A-weighted, averaged over one (1) minute, when measured eight feet (8’) from the means of egress located nearest to the noise source, or eight feet (8’) from the noise source if it is generated outdoors."
For years, people have been arguing that 92-decibels, A-weighted or not, is too high, so when we set out to do a rewrite of the ordinance, two of the questions we sought to answer were:
- What is the right way to measure sound for enforcement in a noise ordinance?
- And if it does come down to decibels, what is the right level?
To answer these questions, back in 2017 we added money to the city's capital budget to purchase sound monitoring equipment and hire a consultant to help us sift through the data. The sound monitoring equipment was installed in July of 2017 and data was collected for four months at thirteen locations. During that time, it didn't make sense to continue with a rewrite of the ordinance. We needed to wait for the data to come in.
The data came in late in 2017 and we reviewed it in early 2018 at a February HHS & PS meeting. I had hoped we would be ready to have a complete rewrite of the ordinance done shortly after receiving this information, but after hearing from the company that helped with the sound monitoring (Acentech), both the committee and city staff had more questions than answers. It became clear that a further review of both the data and best practices around the country would be necessary before a comprehensive—and effective—rewrite of our ordinance could be completed.
So, for those of you waiting desperately for the rewrite to be finished, we are still plugging away at it. In the meantime, the city has taken several steps to curb noise issues in the city in advance of the rewrite. Those include:
- Streamlining the noise complaint process to funnel all complaints through the Police Department. This has allowed a more uniform response to complaints and ensures that proper measurements are taken where appropriate. It also ensures that all complaints are recorded. If you have a noise complaint, call the Police Non-Emergency number to report it: 207.874.8479.
- Notifying the full City Council of all entertainment licenses up for renewal to allow a Councilor to request that a particular license be brought back before the Council for review. This has led to the Council review and change one license, as well as make changes to a second entertainment license that had been the source of complaints.
- Ensuring that the Sound Oversight Committee reviews all noise complaints, not only those with a high enough reading to trigger an ordinance violation.
- Having Business Licensing staff attend the Sound Oversight Committee meetings to answer questions about entertainment licensees and the City’s licensing rules.
- Reducing the number of concerts and the number of back-to-back concerts on public property. In 2016, there were 30 concerts on the Maine State Pier between May and September. In 2017, there were 19. And this year, we are looking at about 15.
In addition, this spring, city staff engaged in an educational campaign to let businesses know that the city will be cracking down on the use of exterior speakers that are designed to attract patrons from blocks away by blasting music. A letter went out to all businesses in late April explaining that warnings will be given initially, but that fines will follow for repeat offenders.
So yes, we are still working on it, and as soon as I have something more to report, I'll do it here, on my blog. So keep checking back, and when you have a noise complaint, be sure to call it in to the Police Non-Emergency line at 207.874.8479.