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Noise ordinance battle continues around Houston

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
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How loud is too loud? That is the debate going on right now between the entertainment industry and the city of Houston.

"A lot of DJs have gone to jail, sound men, live music venue owners," said Omar Afra, owner of Fitzgerald's.

A live music venue in the heart of Houston believes the city noise ordinance, as it is now, doesn't help business owners and their employees or the homeowners who live around the venue.

"The problem is bands, sound men, live music venues, they don't know the procedure what their rights are within that procedure, and often times people are arrested just on arbitrary judgement of the officers," Afra said.

According to the city of Houston, the noise ordinance allows police officers to decide whether or not the music at any establishment is violating code by simply listening. Chris Newport with the city of Houston says finding a common ground when it comes to the city noise ordinance is a work in progress.

"We're not going to have a one size fits all baseline ordinance that's going to work for everyone," Newport said.

Joshua Sanders with the Greater Houston Entertainment Coalition believes not having a standard in place has created confusion on who is actually violating the law because there is no meter to check the decibel levels.

"It's really due to the fact that there's not an objective performance standard in place to be able to judge whether or not a business or venues are in compliance," said Sanders.

Within the past year, an estimated 800 citations have been written to those behind the music. But because there is no way to gage the volume, Sanders says, many of the citations are not enforceable.

"Because it's a subjective call on whether or not it's too loud and most of the time witnesses are not showing up in court, a lot of these tickets are being thrown out," Sanders said.

President of the Washington Avenue Coalition, Jane West says with increased density within urban areas residents are also hoping for answers. She says she would also like to see stricter building codes for area bars and clubs helping to keep the sound from traveling outside the building.

"We say the entertainment venues deserve to make a profit, but the residents deserve a quiet night sleep," said West.

The Greater Houston Entertainment Coalition says they have several ways to resolve this on-going battle. One idea is a certificate of compliance. Under this, a third party would complete a sound inspection on a venue, also test the structure, and give recommendations on ways to improve the building. The certificate of compliance would be on a voluntary basis.

This is just one idea being brought forward to help the noise problem in numerous neighborhoods around the city. Violating the noise ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor which carries a $500 fine and/or jail time.

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