The Woodstock Town Board will have to balance the need for peace and quiet with encouraging live performances as it drafts a new noise ordinance, a point driven home by many musicians who attended a public hearing on March 20. “We’re not trying to kill the music in town,” Supervisor Bill McKenna said in the packed Comeau Drive meeting room, at a public hearing on the proposal.
That’s of little comfort to Rock City Road resident Eleanor Steffen, who has endured loud music from house shows at a next-door rental home. The bass permeates her walls despite her efforts to muffle it with mattresses and other materials. “The bass rocks through every wall of my home,” said Steffen, who said she raised a family of musicians including a tuba and bass player without any noise complaints from the neighbors. The sound levels entering her home have reached a point where she feels like she’s being attacked and bombed.
The town currently regulates noise through the zoning law, which sets decibel limits at the property line. But it is enforceable only by the Building Department.
Should the proposed noise ordinance become law it would be enforceable by police.
“No person, with the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, shall cause, suffer, allow or permit to be made unreasonable noise,” states the proposed law. It defines unreasonable as “any disturbing, excessive, or offensive sound that disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensitivities.”
It further bans unnecessary noise from any source between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., any continuous noise from a dog or other pet exceeding 15 minutes, noise from a burglar or other alarm system lasting more than 15 minutes and excessive or unreasonable noise from any live music or sound system that can be heard over the property line.
Jennifer Robbins used to live next to the Colony on Rock City Road until she couldn’t stand it anymore. The music was “psychotically loud,” she said. “You could feel it in your chest.” Robbins said she was fortunate to be a renter so she was able to move. “I do not know what I would do if I owned that home.”
Bob Berman noted that while the focus was on night music, care should be taken to keep protections for daytime activities. Berman noted a lot of disputes with neighbors are resolvable.
Journey Blue Heaven, who often performs outdoors in front of Harmony or Shindig in the warmer months, said reasonable accommodations need to be made for musicians. She said residents have complained, despite her performances being mainly on the weekend afternoons.
Musician Ras T Asheber said that Woodstock has become a “stushy” place and needs to be more accommodating. “We don’t want residents to be disturbed, but sometimes they have to compromise,” Asheber said.
Jordan Roque, of the band Hairbag, said he has played the house shows next to Steffen. Bands like his don’t get booked at venues like Colony because their music might not appeal to the typical bar-going crowd, he said. “It’s beyond ignorant to look at an entire subculture and call it noise,” Roque said. “We are not just a bunch of noise-making delinquents.” Roque said he played a recent house show intended to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic and help get people trained in using Narcan, the life-saving drug that immediately reverses the effects of an overdose. That show, he said, was shut down by police because of noise complaints.
Jared Ashdown, who rents the house next to Steffen and organizes the shows, said he would rather have the bands play someplace else, but they can’t get booked. He said the house offers a drug-free place where people feel safe coming to play. Ashdown said he is willing to work with the town and if the noise ordinance had a quiet time that was enforceable, he’d be for it.
McKenna suggested Ashdown come to his office so they can discuss ways for musicians to perform and practice that won’t affect people’s peace and quiet. Ideas suggested by some include bringing back the Battle of the Bands, a Friday-night staple that once filled the Community Center.
Colony booking manager Mike Campbell said the sound engineers have grown accustomed to the equipment and how the room responds, and have made a lot of adjustments. The addition of thick curtains on the windows has also helped deaden the sound, he said. Campbell said he’d be fine with a hard curfew that set a cutoff time for live music.
Deputy Supervisor Reggie Earls, who has attended shows at the Colony, confirmed that recently it seemed like he couldn’t hear the music until he came up to the front door.
Town board weighs in
Police Chief Clayton Keefe said common sense and communication will go a long way and his department is not going to use the law as a way to go around a write a lot of tickets. “We want to have teeth in the law,” said Keefe. As it is now, officers can tell someone to turn music down, but there are no consequences when complaints continue.
“Listen to the music from the road and see if it’s loud. You’ll know if your neighbors would complain,” Keefe said.
Councilman Jay Wenk said there is a need for a noise ordinance, but the one proposed is not it. He called much of the language “useless and nonspecific” and said terms like “unneccessary” need to be better defined.
McKenna said he welcomed Wenk to submit any suggested changes to the language.
Councilman Lorin Rose said a law is only as good as the people enforcing it and noted the town has a competent and reasonable police department. “They’re not going to be kicking your doors and shooting your amplifiers,” Rose said. He suggested people work things out with their neighbors.
McKenna agreed communication is key. “If the venues and neighbors start talking to each other, this law could pass tomorrow and it wouldn’t affect any of you,” he said, referring to musicians who expressed concern their ability to perform would be limited.
Councilman Richard Heppner said his main concern is the residential areas, since the commercial areas have more latitude when it comes to noise levels. He is against setting decibel levels because a sound can be considered unreasonable but still fall below a limit.
To be continued
The board voted to recess the public hearing and will likely reopen it at the April 10 meeting, when it may vote to adopt the new law.