Toning it down: New city noise rule factors in bass levels when measuring noise violations

Southwest residents now have a stronger recourse against booming bass vibrations.

Minneapolis has adopted a different scale to measure noise violations that takes the lowest bass intonations more heavily into account. Almost no other major cities use that scale; one city that does is New York. In the past, a club’s bassy sounds that were audible and even felt in a nearby apartment would not necessarily register as a violation in Minneapolis.

At a recent city meeting, Council Member Don Samuels (5th Ward) said the North Loop nightclub Trocaderos had a "phenomenal" noise volume he had never heard before, and it made him feel very old.

Council President Barb Johnson said the city is seeing entirely different sound levels that are getting to the point of absurdity.

"Everybody should buy stock in hearing aid companies," she said.

Daniel Huff, an environmental services supervisor for the city, said they decided that five decibels over nighttime ambient noise should be a violation because three decibels of noise are audible but easy to ignore. Four or five decibels are harder to ignore, and 10 decibels become very bothersome.

He said staff decided to use a "C" weighting scale because it captures bass noise that would otherwise be discounted with the city’s old measurements. Most cities use a scale that’s weighted toward higher frequency noises, because higher-frequency sounds such as speech are at the level the ear is attuned to, and they quickly become more annoying and irksome.

Trocaderos Nightclub prompted the city to change its noise ordinance when it successfully challenged the old rules about a year ago in court. After racking up several noise violations, the club at 107 3rd Ave. N. successfully argued that rules against disturbing residents’ "peace and quiet" were unconstitutionally vague.

Several Downtown club owners aren’t too happy with the change, and the attorneys for Trocaderos are trying to figure out if the new ordinance is legal.

Southwest bar owners
interviewed for this story didn’t seem too perturbed by the changes, however.

Gary Windschitl, the general manager of Stella’s Fish Café, said he doesn’t expect the new rules to have a big impact on the venue.

"Being a neighborhood restaurant, we always try to be courteous to our neighbors," he said.

The general manager of Bar Abilene also doesn’t expect to see any new problems with noise.

"We have a tendency of being very loud inside on Friday and Saturday nights during our happy hour," said John Pleschourt. "But we have great windows, so our neighbors don’t know it."

Scott Engel, executive coordinator of the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group, said residents tend to complain about patrons causing a ruckus as they leave bars, rather than complain about the establishments themselves.

Council Member Ralph Remington (10th Ward) said most of the noise complaints he hears relates to block parties and loud vehicles.

"We haven’t seen the kind of noise issues they’re getting in the Seven Corners area or Downtown," he said.

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), who represents much of Downtown, said residents can run into trouble when quiet businesses are suddenly replaced with loud ones.

"Businesses change all the time," she said. "All we’re asking is for them to be good neighbors."

The city has also clarified outdoor amplified sound regulations, at the request of the Police Department.

"In some instances they could not control crowds because no one could hear them over the speakers," said Huff.

Now, anyone using outdoor speakers needs a permit, and sound measured 50 feet away from the source can’t exceed 90 decibels in total or measure 15 decibels above the ambient noise level.

Huff said the variation based on ambient noise should fall in most bars’ favor.

"It definitely is relative," he said. "If someone lives Downtown next to a major bus route, we don’t expect a bar to be as quiet there as we do in some cul-de-sac in Tangletown."

Cristof Traudes contributed to this story. Reach Michelle Bruch at 436-4372 or mbruch@mnpubs.com.