Who understands Greensboro’s noise ordinance?

by Eric Ginsburg @Eric_Ginsburg

After three revisions in the last two years, it’s no surprise that Greensboro’s noise ordinance factored into the city council race this fall. In his candidate interview with YES! Weekly, before he won an at-large seat on council on Nov. 5, Mike Barber suggested another rewrite.

The ordinance hurt some entertainment businesses by being too restrictive about outdoor amplified noise, Barber said, and should include some exceptions to allow businesses to make back some of their losses on holidays.

“If we have six or eight blowout nights a year in this city, we become a little bit more of a happening place,” Barber said.

With so many college students and young people in the city, it is important that council members “value youthful energy” and “serve all age groups,” not just to be inclusive but also for economic reasons, he said.

“They’re going to find their music and their entertainment, and it better be here,” Barber said, rather than in a nearby city.

His seemingly common-sense compromise struck a chord with YES! Weekly’s editorial department, and subsequent interviewees were asked to comment.

Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson didn’t directly answer the question, but said it is important to build a downtown with nightlife that people like and to listen to young people’s ideas about noise and a controversial teen curfew.

At-large Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter agreed with Barber that the city is too restrictive about amplified noise, adding that council should consider Barber’s idea or go further, allowing weekend exceptions.

Mayor Robbie Perkins, the initial driving force behind the noise ordinance revisions in early 2012, objected. The exceptions would negatively impact two new planned hotels downtown, he said, adding that the owners of Greene Street Club were “dishonest” and “terrible” throughout the process.

“I can’t have two rooftop bars controlling the growth of downtown,” Perkins said, referring to Greene Street and Sky.

Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan, who defeated Perkins in the mayoral race on Nov. 5, didn’t comment on Barber’s ideas because she had already completed her candidate interview, but she has also repeatedly expressed frustration with the way club owners handled the noise ordinance.

YES! Weekly continued asking candidates about Barber’s idea for holiday exceptions until District 4 Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann put a stop to it.

Hoffmann, who shepherded the latest noise ordinance revisions, said Barber’s idea is already in place. Hoffmann should know — she proposed it.

It’s difficult to fault Barber for being unaware of the specifics of the law — they weren’t readily available on the city’s website at the time — but it’s unclear why three council members, including the mayor, appear to have been oblivious to the fact.

A request to the city for the specific language of the ordinance confirmed Hoffmann’s assertion. The ordinance lists four holidays — Halloween, New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July — and the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights preceding Memorial Day and Labor Day as exempt from the ban on amplified noise until 2 a.m.

The exemption grew out of an informal subcommittee, Police Attorney Jim Clark said, that included Hoffmann, Vaughan and Abuzuaiter.

Even if council members weren’t fully aware of the ordinance’s language, downtown club owners are.

Greene Street owner Kenny Efird and Sky owner Mike Carter said they took advantage of the Halloween holiday, the only unrestricted night since the latest changes were put in place. Both said there were no problems with noise complaints that evening, and Clark said he isn’t aware of any venue-related noise complaints on Halloween.

Sky will host something on its rooftop with amplified music on New Year’s Eve, Carter said, but it isn’t clear what Greene Street will do.

“I don’t know what our plans are, to tell you the truth,” Efird said.

Both men said they would like to read the language of the ordinance. Efird said he wanted to read the holiday exceptions in the ordinance before commenting further but subsequently could not be reached.

The noise ordinance revisions “drastically” curtailed their business, Carter said, and that while they recouped some of that hit on Halloween, he said the holiday exceptions won’t make up for all of the lost revenue. The city and Sky owners are entangled in legal action around the ordinance but it won’t go to court until June 4, Carter said. While he’s glad that the club can host some events on its rooftop dance floor until then on holidays, Carter said it might hurt the city’s legal case against Sky.

“Adding those exceptions for the certain days of the year is something that’s going to really bite them in court,” he said, adding that similar ordinance exceptions in cities such as Beauford contributed to the laws being tossed out in court.

In the meantime, Sky owners have been meeting with the city to try and modify the rooftop venue so that it could continue hosting events with music after 11 p.m. more regularly again. It’s not clear exactly where the month-long process will end up, but the two groups met again last week to try and figure out a solution, Sky coowner Howard Dozier said.

“We’re trying to get something together that will satisfy both parties,” Dozier said, declining to comment on the specifics.

Clark said he couldn’t say how the process is going because he isn’t intimately involved in the process, but said the city has been discussing possibilities for retrofitting Sky with its owners for about a month.

“They’re making steps to try and find some ways that they could alter that space and make some use out if it,” Clark said.

There has been some discussion between Greene Street and the city about similar ideas, Clark said, but added that it may not be the same kind of solution. Greene Street owners said in the early summer, before the latest two rounds of ordinance changes, that they plan to turn the club’s rooftop into a restaurant-style venue similar to Fisher’s Grille downtown. !