HALLOWELL — The city is still considering pumping up the volume, but in a lesser way.

That was the recommendation of Hallowell’s Noise Ordinance Committee last week, which opted to suggest a slight alteration to the city’s regulations instead of wholesale changes.

The ordinance currently allows 50 decibels overnight — from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. — and 70 decibels from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The committee’s recommendation calls for the allowance of 60 decibels from 9:01 p.m. to 1 a.m., and 50 decibels from 1-7 a.m.

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.”

Eric Zwirling, director of the Rutgers University Noise Technical Assistance Center, told the Kennebec Journal in October that a 10-decibel increase usually represents a “perceived doubling in loudness.” On low frequencies such as bass, however, a 6-decibel increase could be a perceived doubling.

City Councilor Lynn Irish, a committee member and downtown resident, said she was concerned about music being played on outdoor speakers after 9 p.m. when downtown residents were trying to sleep. She attempted to compel the voting members of the committee, incoming Councilor Maureen Aucoin, Councilor Kate Dufour and downtown business owner John Merrill, to ban outdoor music after 9 p.m.

“Once you put music outside after 9 p.m., it’s going to be loud no matter how you slice and dice it,” she said, mentioning that outdoor venues could play a radio during that time instead of a live band.

Aucoin said that the ordinance is designed to capture all noise and banning music was too narrow of a provision.

“I’m uncomfortable with (mentioning music) because it’s not a music ordinance,” she said. “If they exceed the noise level, they’re in violation.”

Merrill said that music has more annoying qualities and is more sustained that a loud conversation.

“(There is a difference between) the annoyance of voices and the annoyance of a steady beat,” he said. “That’s what was driving me nuts at 75 decibels.”

Noise levels in the current ordinance can be exceeded by 10 decibels for a 15-minute period once a day and some events, like Old Hallowell Day, Rock on the River and council-approved events, are limited at 80 decibels. But the committee expressed interest in limiting the city council’s ability to permit 80 decibel events, because Merrill was worried that the council could perpetually permit loud events.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my years in Hallowell feeling like I have to be on alert for every council meeting,” said Merrill, who owns Merrill’s Bookshop next door to the Quarry Tap Room and says loud noises “kills” his business. “You are sacrificing my business and local residents for someone so they can sell more beer; I think that idea is abhorrent.”

Police Chief Eric Nason also suggested language that would make measuring noise levels less complicated. The current ordinance says noise would be measured “at all major lot lines at a height of at least four … feet above the ground.” He said it may be unclear where property lines are and it could lead to inaccurate readings.

A general increase in noise downtown drafted by the committee was thrown out after a public hearing in late October. Residents bemoaned the general decibel increase downtown, saying the draft ordinance did not achieve a “balance” between a vibrant downtown, and peace and quiet for downtown residents.

The committee will send a survey to downtown businesses that play music to gauge their response to the ordinance along with an invite to their next meeting on Jan. 9, 2019.

The ordinance has passed through one reading at the City Council already. It would need to pass through two more to become part of the city’s Code of Ordinances.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME


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