City solicitor drafts noise ordinance

February 6, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

As a result of a feud between downtown residents and the Columbia Music Arena, Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas has presented a rough draft of a noise ordinance for discussion.

Several area residents and business operators turned out for multiple Portsmouth City Council meetings in 2012 to complain about the noise they say had been emanating from the recently opened Columbia Music Arena at 832 Gallia Street in Portsmouth. When the facility reopened with rock and country acts performing, a section of the roof was left open, which residents say allows the sound to amplify throughout the neighborhood.

The complaints resulted in Portsmouth City Council asking Haas to prepare an ordinance which would give teeth to the city’s rather vague noise ordinance.

If enacted, the rough draft would carry with it a maximum permissible dB level, set by time of day and according to the zoning status of the locations. The decibel levels would be based on “A-Weighted Decibel Level (dBA),” which means the decibel level reading is corrected using frequency weighting corresponding approximately to the 40 dB equal loudness curve, that is to say, the human ear’s response to low to medium sound levels. It is by far the most commonly applied frequency weighting and is used for all levels of sound.

Allowable levels for Table 2 Maximum permissible A-Scale Fast Time-Weighting Decibel Level LAFmax would be 85 dBA from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; 80 dBA from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m.; 70 dBA from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m., and 65 dBA from 2 a.m. until 7 a.m.

The ordinance defines “excessive noise,” as meaning the presence of that amount of acoustic energy for a period of time with the potential to cause temporary or permanent hearing loss in persons exposed; be otherwise injurious, or tend to be, on the basis of current information, injurious to the public health or welfare; create a nuisance; interfere with domestic tranquility, that is, the comfortable enjoyment of life and property or the conduct of business; or exceed standards or restrictions, established herein or pursuant to the granting of any permit by Council.”

Among other sections of the document, the ordinance says - “No person, public corporation, private corporation, individual firm, partnership, association or any other entity shall create excessive noise or sound, or permit the creation of excessive noise or sound in such a manner as to disturb the peace and quiet of a neighborhood, having due regard for the proximity of places of residence, retirement homes, hospitals, or other residential institutions, schools, and to any other conditions affected by such noise.”

The ordinance allows for measurement and enforcement, and says - “The provisions of this section may be enforced by designated members of the city manager’s staff and/or the Police Department of the city of Portsmouth.”

Under the ordinance, the penalty for the first offense would be a $500 fine, and calls for the entity who violates the ordinance to take corrective action to control the noise to within the applicable limits. Second offenses would result in a $1,000 fine, and, again, corrective action to be taken. A third offense within a one-year period would mean a $1,500 fine, an order to take corrective action, and the city would suspend any operating license issued by the city to that entity until such time that the violator provides satisfactory proof that corrective action had been taken to control the excessive noise.

“This is just a rough draft to get the ball rolling,” Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas said. “Hopefully both sides will come in and have their ducks in a row and talk about why it should be this side or the other and then let Council decide what they want to do, if anything.”

The Columbia Music Arena, the center of the controversy, is now for sale. Lee Scott, owner of the venue, says, in addition to the Columbia, he is wanting to sell several other properties he owns.

“I’m going to sell them all if I can find a buyer for them,” Scott said. “My goal has always been to build the Columbia, not to own it and not to run it. I just wanted to build something back there, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”


Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com.