AUGUSTA — The Planning Board rejected a request from the Red Barn restaurant for a waiver of the city’s noise ordinance decibel limit for the second time in two years.

The restaurant, which for the last few summers has hosted a series of regular free concerts that have prompted some neighbors to complain about noise, sought a waiver of the city’s noise ordinance limit of 60 decibels at the property line so it could host weekly car shows with a disc jockey without having to pay the city $100 each time.

Matt Nazar, development director for the city, said the board, under the ordinance, needed to find the Red Barn had done three things in order to consider granting a waiver to the noise ordinance: Has the applicant reviewed and assessed available technology for limiting noise and determined the noise standards cannot practically be met with that technology? Has the applicant shown noise easement agreements with neighbors are not practical or not available? Would the proposal be compatible with the neighborhood and not unduly interfere with others’ enjoyment, including not creating noise at unreasonable hours?

Board members said while they appreciate all the Red Barn, a frequent host of benefits and fundraisers for community causes, does for the community, they did not feel restaurant officials had shown they’d made enough effort to meet those standards, nor had they made enough effort to find a way to make outdoor events there less bothersome to neighbors.

Walter McKee, an attorney representing two Red Barn neighbors, suggested a way to start: “The one thing they could do to solve all these problems is just turn. The volume. Down.”

The Augusta Planning Board, which rejected the request in a 6-0 vote, 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 sometime before 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.

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.

She said she’s sympathetic to neighbors but the neighborhood is a mixed-used neighborhood and the restaurant shouldn’t be told (by neighbors) to move elsewhere because it is successful and has grown, any more than residents there should be told they should move out of their homes there.

She and car show organizers said the music wouldn’t be loud. She said she sought a waiver to the noise ordinance just in case they exceed the 60 decibel limit.

“It’s a bunch of middle aged, older people; a lot of expensive cars, street rods; and it’s a night out to show off what they got,” David Furlong, a car show supporter, said of the planned events. “They drive in and park. Some raise hoods, whatever. They sit around in lawn chairs, go down to Red Barn and get something to eat.

“We have a DJ and he has a trailer with a tent and he can set up anywhere. They’re good-sized speakers, but it’s not real loud. Most people don’t like the music to be loud.”

The car shows would 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.

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.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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