HALLOWELL — The city’s downtown is getting louder on Friday and Saturday nights after the City Council approved a new noise ordinance on Monday.

The council voted unanimously to approve the second reading and 6-1 to approve the third and final reading. Councilor Patrick Wynne, parroting prior concern from citizens that an increase may be unnecessary, cast the only dissenting vote.

The new draft only changes restrictions in the city’s downtown on Fridays and Saturdays. Downtown noise levels from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. can be up to 70 decibels but drops to 60 decibels from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and again to 50 decibels from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. Noise levels are restricted to 50 decibels overnight — from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. — and 70 decibels from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m in all other sections of the city and downtown Sunday through Thursday. Before Monday, the whole city was subject to the same 70 and 50 decibels limits.

Violations carry a fine between $50 and $250 for each separate incident, per the ordinance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration likens 50 decibels to 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, said last year that a 10-decibel increase usually represents a “perceived doubling in loudness.” On low frequencies, such as bass, a 6-decibel increase could be a perceived doubling.


Noise levels can be exceeded during some events. Special events like Old Hallowell Day, Rock on the River and council-approved events are limited at 80 decibels. Noise levels would be measured by a meter “at or near any property boundary of the sound source.”

Some downtown residents have spoken out against a rise during public hearings and forums spanning back to October 2018, saying there was no need for the increase because it was already too loud when venues play music or when bar patrons loudly leave bars at closing time. One of the most spirited critics was Lynn Irish, a former city councilor and downtown resident, who questioned the increase on a number of occasions.

“In Hallowell, the noise just echoes and bounces around,” she said last month. “I just want you all to know it’s already noisy, and I just don’t understand why you are proposing to make it noisier.”

It was discussed that the third reading may require suspending normal meeting procedure — which normally requires three readings over three separate meetings.

Mayor Mark Walker cited the rapidly approaching summer music season as a reason to expedite proceedings. Wynne said he did not “recognize the emergent need” to enact the ordinance with an emergency reading.

Councilor Maureen Aucoin, citing the city’s charter, said three readings could be done on two days without suspending rules and holding an emergency reading. Wynne said the city’s code of ordinances states three readings must happen on three separate days. Walker said the charter overrules the code of ordinances, and the council eventually approved the third reading.

This ordinance was drafted by the Noise Ordinance Committee and reviewed by the Ordinance Rewrite Committee. Councilor Kate Dufour, the chair of the Noise Ordinance Committee and Ordinance Rewrite Committee, said in May the ordinance was not designed to create more noise, but it was designed to be enforceable. She added that the quick jump from 70 decibels to 50 decibels could easily be broken by a spirited conversation between friends.

No members of the public spoke at the meeting on the ordinance.

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