Greensboro approves noise ordinance changes

by Eric Ginsburg

Center Pointe, downtown still core of debate

As the Greensboro City Council heard from residents on both sides of the noise ordinance debate last week, Greene Street and Center Pointe remained at the core of the discussion even though Greene Street announced last month that it is closing its rooftop dance floor.

When the topic strayed from the club, it remained primarily focused on others downtown like Syn & Sky or Blu Martini.

Council approved a reduced citywide noise threshold, dropping the decibel level from 75 to 65, and changing the measurement method from A to C weighting. Council voted 7 to 2 in favor of the changes, with Marikay Abuzuaiter and Dianne Bellamy-Small questioning the logic of the changes and voting no.

At a meeting last month, Police Attorney Jim Clark said the city heard from more downtown residents who were frustrated about noise in the last year since the initial noise ordinance changes took effect. Calls about Greene Street easily dwarfed the number to any other club in the city. Greene Street received three citations and the city is now taking legal action against the entity and manager Grady Green.

Glenn Romano, a Center Pointe resident who was the first speaker at the council meeting in favor of lowering the decibel threshold, was the primary Greene Street complainant in the last year. According a court document from the case, Romano made at least 17 calls about Greene Street, and one other call was simply attributed to “Glen.” The majority of the calls “” 24 total “” were from unknown or anonymous callers, some the same night that Romano called, others note the caller was male and one even says “possibly Glenn Romano.”

Center Pointe developer and resident Roy Carroll, who was the primary proponent of revising the ordinance last year, is only listed as a caller once. Mary Lamuragulia, another Center Pointe resident, made two calls about Greene Street. Only three other infrequent callers, David Yelverton, “Teresa” and “Omar,” were identified in the court document, and a few incidents were “officer initiated.”

In his remarks at last week’s council meeting, Romano said several people had moved out of Center Pointe because of the noise and that others were threatening to leave. Romano added that the last round of revisions made matters worse, and that the club was a problem several nights a week.

“You can clearly hear lyrics and music,” he said. “We’ve had a tough time with outdoor music coming from the rooftop on Greene Street.”

Craig Waller said he’s one of the people considering moving out of Center Pointe, presumably unaware that Greene Street announced its intentions to close its rooftop dance floor. Waller said he’s lived in downtown London, Hong Kong and New York City and has never heard noise like this.

The number of noise complaints dropped after the ordinance was revised last year, and the number of citations only rose slightly. Mike Carter, one of the owners of Syn & Sky on South Elm Street, said at the council meeting that his club’s three citations weren’t for being too loud, but for music playing slightly past the 2 a.m. cutoff and for one incident of amplified voice during NC A&T University’s homecoming. Carter said the first two citations were during the ordinance’s trial period and that the city shouldn’t be prosecuting the club for those violations.

Greene Street owner Kenny Efird said the proposed threshold is too low and that the club has already lowered music and stopped amplified voice in accordance with the changes.

“We were over 65 [decibels] and the business wasn’t open,” Efird said, referring to a specific incident.

Other residents spoke against the ordinance changes, a handful of them city council candidates.

“The clubs haven’t gotten any rowdier,” said Katei Cranford, who filed to run at large a few days later. “Greene Street’s closed the rooftop. It’s a big culture of ‘no.’ Stop blaming kids and clubs.”

Alex Seymour, who is running in District 5, questioned whether the changes are just being done for a few people who live downtown, adding that the ordinance and other council actions like the teen curfew downtown are “penalizing young and poor people” and said the city should be “lifting people up” rather than “pushing them out.” Mayoral candidate George Hartzman was even more pointed, saying the council aimed to “rid downtown of Greensboro’s unwanted undesirables.”

“Mr. Carroll wants everybody else to pay for his business mistakes,” Hartzman said. “[The council] essentially un-invited all the college students to this debate.”

At-large Councilwoman Abuzuaiter said she tried to postpone the ordinance vote because students, many of whom care about the issue, are out of town for the summer.

“I’m not sure where or why all of this came up,” she said before voting against the changes. “We’re going to have a big issue where everybody downtown is going to be shut down. It is a very complex matter.”

Abuzuaiter also questioned the wisdom of changing the decibel reading from A to C weighting, reading from the police department’s handbook that says C weighting is generally used for scientific purposes and machinery while A weighting is common for community and noise measurements.

“We’re not even sure what our own decibel readers are doing,” she said, also remarking that her normal speech could be an 80 reading under the C weighting.

Police Attorney Clark said the C weighting would more closely approximate what the human ear picks up because A weighting misses lower, bass frequencies. The new weighting will also mean readings that are an average of 10 decibels higher than ones taken with A weighting, he said.

“C is going to result in higher decibel numbers,” Clark said. “We expect that C is always going to be a higher number than what A would be.”

While C weighting isn’t common in other cities’ ordinances, Clark said it would provide more accurate readings of the noise.

District 1 Councilwoman Bellamy- Small, who also voted against the ordinance, said the city has a pattern of pursuing development without planning, like when club owners invested downtown, and should have thought more about positioning of residential property downtown. The city financially supported the development of Center Pointe.

“I think we are being too harsh and overlegislating the very thing we said we wanted which is commerce downtown,” Bellamy-Small said. “They’ve invested a lot in having these businesses.”

Several people who don’t live in Center Pointe spoke in favor of the ordinance and weren’t primarily concerned with Greene Street but were focused on downtown clubs, including two who said sound coming through the wall at Blu Martini into an apartment was unbearable.

Greensboro Court co-owner Mike Weaver said he and his wife don’t even try renting their front apartments to anyone except twentysomethings, and even then, they warn potential tenants about the noise.

“This [current] noise ordinance is very unfair to our residents,” Weaver said before council approved the changes. “[The] key to downtown is to be residential.”