HALLOWELL — Residents, local musicians and business owners are offering their takes on proposed changes to the city’s noise ordinance, saying the proposed increase should achieve a balance for residents and businesses and enforcement of the ordinance.

About 20 people were on hand at Hallowell City Hall for the Thursday night public hearing hosted by the Noise Ordinance Committee.

The draft ordinance keeps limits the same as usual in all districts except the downtown district, where a general increase in the noise level would be permitted. From Monday to Thursday, the permitted limit from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. would be 55 decibels. The rest of the day — from 7:01 a.m. to 12:59 a.m. — the permitted limit would be 70 decibels.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration likens 50 decibels to the average noise heard outside an “urban residence,” 60 decibels to a “conversation three feet away,” 70 decibels to “classroom chatter” and 80 decibels to a “freight train 100 feet away.”

On Friday and Saturday, limits would be set at 55 decibels from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., 70 decibels from 7:01 a.m. to 4:59 p.m., 80 decibels from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and 70 decibels 9:01 p.m. to 12:59 a.m. On Sunday, the limits would be 55 decibels from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., 70 decibels from 7:01 a.m. to 12:59 p.m., 80 decibels from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 70 decibels from 5:01 p.m. to 12:59 a.m.

Eric Zwirling, director of the Rutgers University Noise Technical Assistance Center, said a 10-decibel increase usually represents a “perceived doubling in loudness.” However, on low frequencies such as bass, a 6-decibel increase could be a perceived doubling.

A long-standing concert series downtown, Rock on the River, usually registers between 72 and 74 decibels, according to Police Chief Eric Nason. Those events are approved by the City Council, which has ability to stretch the limits to 80 decibels by its action. Old Hallowell Day is another exception, where noise can be at 80 decibels until 1 a.m.

At one point during the hearing, committee member Kate Dufour said members of the committee should refrain from replying to comments from the audience. That comment was indirectly referring to John Merrill, committee member and owner of Merrill’s Bookshop, who was eager to explain what decibels meant to commenters and remind the audience of his struggles with noise from the nearby Quarry Tap Room.

Merrill said that the noise from the business owned by Chris Vallee “destroys his” business and drives a tenant of the 110 Water Street building “insane.”

“Just the light acoustic music played for the dinner crowd is fine,” he said. “It’s the loud volume; that’s what destroys my business.”

Merrill recommended any changes to the ordinance be unanimously accepted by all abutters, a notion Vallee found unfair.

“I think that’s ridiculous because (Merrill) would say no every single time,” Vallee said, mentioning that he has only received noise complaints from one abutter.

“Your abutter has only complained when you have destroyed my business,” Merrill replied.

Vallee was consulted during the ordinance drafting, according to Dufour, but he said he did not ask for the 80 decibel limit and has always followed the ordinance.

“The Quarry Tap Room has never, ever once had live music (outside) after 9 o’clock … other than the last two Old Hallowell Days,” he said. “It’s tough for a band to play under 75 (decibels,) I think 80 is far-fetched.”

Vallee also he advocated for the music scene in Hallowell citing changes to the community when he moved to Hallowell about 15 years ago.

“There were like 14 antique shops downtown; now there are 13 bars and restaurants,” he said. “That’s why downtown is thriving; it’s turned into a music community and not an antique shop community.”

Downtown residents believed a balance was necessary between Hallowell’s music scene and their needs as residents. Lynn Irish, a City Councilor, downtown resident and member of the Noise Ordinance Committee, said she didn’t believe the draft ordinance was fair to downtown residents.

“These brick buildings make the noise multiply,” she said. In the summer time, with the current ordinance, I have to sleep with a fan on and I can still hear what’s going on downtown.”

Resident Rick Morrow questioned the need for a change to the ordinance, citing that he has never heard anyone say the music in Hallowell is too quiet.

“I really miss some of the antique shops,” he said in response to Vallee. “I have not heard one person say, “Gee, I wish that music was louder.'”

As drafted, any reading of noise after a complaint would measured “at any property boundary of the sound source or at any point within any other property in the same district that is affected by the sound.” Belgrade Lakes musician Christine Poulson, who frequently plays at the Hydeout at The Wharf, said the noise level should be measured at the point of complaint.

“If they’re calling from the other side of town, that’s where I think you should be testing,” she said.

Resident Cary Colwell said she was in support of the raise in noise level because “most … conversations are 70 decibels.”

“We’re a town of art, music and history,” she said. “I’ve seen ordinances kill a music scene.”

In July, the proposed ordinance passed through a first reading of three that are required before it becomes part of the city charter. The ordinance would need to be reviewed through two more City Council readings before it is written into the city’s charter.

Dufour said the hearing was “very successful” and the committee had a lot of work to do on the ordinance prior to the next reading.

“I’m glad we had the meeting because we really need feedback to find a plan to find that balance,” Dufour said. “We’re an active city and we want to make sure all voices are heard.”

The ordinance is expected to be discussed at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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