AUGUSTA — The Red Barn restaurant, which for the last few summers has hosted a series of regular free concerts that have prompted some neighbors to complain about noise, is once again seeking a waiver of the city’s noise ordinance decibel limit.

This time, the popular Riverside Drive spot wants to host weekly car shows with a disc jockey without having to pay the city $100 each time.

The Augusta Planning Board, which meets Tuesday to consider the request, rejected a similar proposal from the restaurant in July 2013. Board members said then that Red Barn officials had not done enough to address neighbors’ concerns by limiting noise from the regular, hour-long summer concerts that began in 2012.

After that rejection of their request for a waiver of the 60-decibel limit in the city’s noise ordinance, Red Barn officials found a way to have their planned summer concert series without any restrictions on decibels. Throughout the summer of 2014, the restaurant applied for a mass gathering ordinance for each one and paid the city a $100 permit fee each time.

The city’s noise ordinance, adopted in 2012, restricts noise from commercial operations to a maximum of 60 decibels at the property lines of the business.

However, the noise ordinance specifically provides an exemption to its regulations for any event that has received another municipal permit, such as the mass gathering permit the Red Barn obtained for the events, as long as the event is between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., according to Alicia Barnes, business manager of the Red Barn.

Barnes said with 22 car shows planned over the year, it would cost the restaurant $2,200 to pay $100 for a mass gathering permit for each event, money she said the restaurant isn’t likely to recover from those who buy food at the free car shows. That would be on top of the $2,200 the restaurant will also likely spend for a mass gathering permit to cover the $100 fee for the Thursday night summer concerts.

She said the cost is “prohibitively expensive,” it takes staff time to apply for each of them, and it amounts to a “pay to play” standard because the noise ordinance is now effectively waived each time the Red Barn pays for and receives a mass gathering permit.

“I don’t feel it is fair to the Red Barn to have to pay $100 for each event to be exempt from the noise ordinance,” Barnes said. “There is more than one option to make sure we’re in the confines of the law. The pay option, which we’re using now, is the mass gathering permit, which is prohibitively expensive.”

She said if the Planning Board were to grant a conditional use waiver of the noise decibel limits, the board could grant the Red Barn a temporary waiver, perhaps with a decibel limit higher than 60 decibels, which she said is too low. The mass gathering permit contains no provisions for any decibel limits, Barnes said, so the city would have more control over noise from the events via a waiver of the decibel level than with the mass gathering permit.

The car shows run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays starting May 5 through Sept. 29 at the 455 Riverside Drive restaurant. Application materials filed by the Red Barn indicate officials anticipate noise from the events could exceed the city’s 60-decibel limit. They won’t know for sure, Barnes said, until they have an event there.

Two neighbors who in recent years have had an ongoing noise dispute with the busy restaurant, which was established at the site in 1977, object to the most recent proposal, according to a letter filed with the city by attorney Walter McKee on behalf of those two neighbors, Roger Carrier, who lives just south of the Red Barn, and Brian King, who lives just north of it.

In the letter filed with the city, McKee notes the Red Barn held a number of concerts in the summer of 2012 that exceeded the city’s decibel limits.

“This car show with the loud music and DJ is going to be every single Tuesday night for the entire summer,” McKee said in a letter filed with the city objecting to the proposal. “It will take place at a time when people are presumably home from work in the early evening and want to relax. There will be no resting and relaxing because it will be too loud to do so.”

The letter states that King and Carrier had to close their windows when the Red Barn hosted events, and events taking place twice a week will only make the problem worse.

Their objections to the proposal were joined by those of another couple, Laura and Iain Hamilton, who live to the south and across the street from the restaurant. Red Barn has an outdoor seating area where patrons may eat their food after picking it up inside when they are alerted by an outside speaker that their food is ready.

The Hamiltons said in their letter to the city they not only object to the proposal, but they also believe the Red Barn should replace its outside intercom speakers, because on summer days with their windows open, all they can hear is the restaurant’s intercom calling the names of customers.

Barnes said a DJ, versus a band playing live music, may be better able to control the volume and direction of the music being played away from the neighbors who’ve objected. But she said they need a waiver to be able to try it out without risking running afoul of the city’s 60-decibel sound limit, which she said seems like a low and arbitrary number.

When the city adopted its new noise ordinance, officials said 60 decibels was about as loud as a normal face-to-face conversation.

While the Red Barn is known for its many fundraising events for local causes, neither the summer concerts nor the car shows would be benefit events.

The noise waiver request goes to planners at 7 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Board members are also scheduled to:

• Consider a request from AugustRes LLC, developer of a Western Avenue hotel project under construction now and approved by the board last year, to change the project. The developer would change the style of the roof, which would make the hotel roughly 50 feet high, higher than the 42 feet allowed there unless it is approved at that height as a conditional use. The developer also wants to do some blasting to continue preparation of the site;

• hold a workshop on a proposed new Historic District Ordinance;

• hold a public hearing on allowing changeable message boards in the Riggs Brook Village District;

• hold a public hearing on the application of Michael and Wendy Pelletier to install a foundation beneath a house at 50 Albee Road in the Rural Ponds District;

• hold a public hearing on a request from Rita McCollett to open a consignment shop, a conditional retail use, at 42 Mount Vernon Ave. in the Resource Development District.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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