These New Regulations Would Kill The Live Music Scene In DC

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New noise bills being kicked around the D.C. Council have the potential to severely limit the ability of music venues in the city to operate, business owners say.

The new law will effectively extend noise ordinances from residential zones in the District of Columbia to commercial zones and business owners say it could force them to shut down.

Dante Ferrando, owner of rock and roll club Black Cat, told the council the new “plainly audible” standard it wants to implement “could effectively shut down D.C.’s live music venues.”

The collection of new laws will force put regulations on businesses that owners say will be a death knell for commerce.

One bill requires any business that possesses a liquor license to measure noise levels coming out of its establishments with a decibel meter every day and then report those readings to the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration at the end of the week.

The original version of that bill would require businesses to take the measurements hourly.

Another bill establishes a “plainly audible” standard that says noise coming from an establishment cannot be heard more than 50 feet from the building.

A procession of local bar and restaurant owners paraded in front of the council to express displeasure with the bill, arguing that the subjective “plainly audible” standard can’t be effectively enforced.

Bill Duggan, owner of the Madam’s Organ bar, said the regulations go too far and have the potential to put a lot of people out of business.

“When you have a few bad actors, you address the bad actors. You don’t go out and start playing whack-a-mole in the city,” he said. “Giving people carte blanche to use subjective measurements, I think you’re headed for disaster.”

Mathew Cronin, owner of outdoor music venue Echostage told the council the law will put the future of his business and the people he employs in jeopardy.

“It is clear that, if passed, this bill will eliminate many venues that provide outdoor entertainment,” he said.

Ferrando said the “plainly audible” standard will put his “loud rock club” in violation, while traffic in the street is about “100 times louder.”

If you walk down any commercial street in the city, he said, any restaurant playing background music with its windows open will violate the “plainly audible” standard.

Several business owners said they spent well more than $100,000 installing retractable glass roofs and soundproof walls to comply with existing law, and new rules will be completely unnecessary.

A few bad actors, both council members and business owners agreed, are responsible for the complaints that led to the law, so to punish all businesses is unfair.

Council member Brianne Nadeau said she is “frustrated” that the council is taking a metaphorical sledgehammer to an issue that could use a scalpel.

“It’s becoming clear to me that, perhaps, what we need is better enforcement,” she said, adding that the proposed regulations will negatively impact businesses that have been fully compliant with the law.

The new law came at the behest of residents who say noise coming from the bars is too much for them to handle.

Ted Guthrie, a neighborhood commissioner in Adams Morgan, a popular nightlife destination in the city, said the number one complaint he hears from residents during meetings is that they can’t sleep because of the loud music.

“I’ve had constituents that are regularly forced from their bedrooms, to their friend’s couches, to get a good night’s sleep,” he said.

Vincent Orange, the council member who introduced the legislation, said that noise is just part of life, but there must be some sort of compromise between businesses and residents.

“I think it’s unreasonable to say people who live in commercial areas aren’t entitled to peace and quiet,” he said.

Orange pointed to noise laws in cities like Chicago and Miami, which he called the nightlife capital of the country, that have similar “clearly audible” rules as a model for the proposed law.

Ferrando, however, pointed out that most of the places with “plainly audible standards,” like Miami exempt commercial districts from the law.

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