Noise debate altered: Greene Street closing rooftop

by Eric Ginsburg

Though noise complaints come in from all over the city, the discussion about Greensboro’s noise ordinance — which is back on the agenda for the city council’s June 18 meeting — always seems to return to two downtown titans: Greene Street night club and developer Roy Carroll. Council has resurrected the noise ordinance debate from last year, but this time it will likely be a lot less controversial for one major reason: Greene Street is closing its rooftop dance floor.

In its place, there will be a rooftop grill akin to downtown businesses like M’Couls and Fisher’s, owner Kenny Efird said last week. The grill will be open for lunch and at night, Efird said, and they plan to launch it in the fall. It’s not official yet — designs are still being drawn — but Greene Street owners are working with an architect and started talking to other downtown grill owners.

“We haven’t pulled the trigger on any plans or submitted it to the city or anything,” Efird said. “We’ll change everything. We had to go that direction because we knew it was coming sooner or later.”

Everything inside the building — the dance floor, the concert stage and more — will stay the same, but the rooftop dance floor will be closed when construction begins.

“I think that will fit our rooftop better,” Efird said, adding that it will allow them to be open on days the venue is currently closed. “I don’t want to irritate people that live around me. This grill plan will work for everyone.”

A direct line of sight from Greene Street’s roof to the upper floors of the condos in Center Pointe, which are owned and inhabited by Carroll, created friction between the two parties that culminated in council’s decision to revisit the noise ordinance in early 2012. After outcry from club owners, patrons and supporters, council passed a revised ordinance that included a higher decibel threshold.

The city is currently taking legal action against Greene Street after it received three citations for violating the revised noise ordinance. Greene Street is counter-claiming against the city and owners hope a judge will rule that the ordinance is “unconstitutional both in how it was drafted and how it’s being applied,” Greene Street’s lawyer Norman Klick said. The litigation also claims the city violated due process, equal protection and First Amendment rights.

Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann said the litigation “just has to play out in the legal environment.” Council needs to revise the ordinance to bring the noise threshold more in step with peer cities, she said, to balance living, working and playing.

Hoffmann explained the genesis of the ordinance and the need to revisit it at a young professionals’ meeting two weeks ago, saying it wasn’t having the desired effect.

“The great thing about government and particularly local government is that we have the opportunity to come back and fix things,” Hoffmann said, adding that council passed the ordinance with the understanding that they would revisit it. “I think you can see we’re just trying to get to the right place.”

The number of noise complaints citywide has dropped from 5,195 to 4,726 after the ordinance’s implementation during comparable time periods, but the number of citations has almost doubled even though the city delayed enforcement during an initial trial period. The number of citations to nightclubs only rose slightly — from eight to 12 —and Greene Street was cited the most.

Despite the drop in complaints, Police Attorney Jim Clark said the city has heard from more downtown residents frustrated about noise in the last year. Hoffmann emphasized the importance of increasing the number of downtown residents for the center city to thrive.

Kurt Collins, one of about a dozen people who attended the meeting hosted by SynerG, said he moved out of the City View apartments downtown because of noise coming from a rooftop club. Despite taking his concerns to complex management and calling police a few times about the sound coming from former club Heaven, where Sky is currently located, Collins moved out of downtown in August 2010.

Some attendees said the amount of noise is just a part of having a vibrant city and living downtown, but Collins said he doesn’t understand why council raised the decibel threshold last year when council already knew there were complaints about volume.

“I can’t imagine how aggravated I would be once they increased the noise level,” he said. “That would’ve been unbearable.”

Collins, who works downtown at United Guarantee, is part of a group of young professionals that presented council with a white paper outlining their interest in helping to improve downtown Greensboro. Part of that means fixing the noise ordinance and decreasing the decibel threshold, he said, adding that he hoped a compromise could be reached that wouldn’t hurt club owners’ business.

“Nobody’s telling them to turn it down to a whisper,” he said. “It seems like there could be some way to accommodate residential properties and business owners.”