Cape Girardeau downtown noise committee to make recommendations

Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Tungsten Groove performs on Bel Air's outdoor stage on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010, in Cape Girardeau. (Kristin Eberts)

A proposed downtown Cape Girardeau noise ordinance aimed at outdoor bands would make it a citable offense if any sound is audible at distances greater than 300 feet at any time, though the distance shrinks during late-night hours.

An eight-person committee tasked with taking a look at the city's noise ordinance will make its recommendation to the Cape Girardeau City Council at its 5 p.m. study session today.

While most members of the Noise Ordinance Review Committee said they believe the proposal strikes a fair balance, some said they thought 300 feet -- about the length of a football field -- isn't a great enough distance.

"I think the 300-foot line is way too close for what has always been going on downtown," said Michael Hess, a committee member and owner of Breakaways. "I think complaints will still come at this distance, and I think it should be more like 1,000 feet to be fair."

The proposal, which would have to be drafted in ordinance form and approved by council, sets parameters for weekday and weekend levels, which vary depending upon the time of day, according to a city memo outlining the recommendations.

Under the proposal, violations of the ordinance would occur when sound is plainly audible at 300 feet and beyond from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. From 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., that distance shrinks to 150 and down to 50 feet from 1:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

On Friday and Saturday, sound must not be plainly audible past 300 feet from 10 a.m. to midnight, decreasing to 150 feet from midnight to 1:30 a.m. and to 50 feet from 1:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The proposal calls for a new ordinance directed at the downtown area only, but diverts from the existing noise ordinance in that it would apply a "plainly audible" rule. That rule is defined in the memo as "any sound that can be detected by a person using his or her unaided hearing faculties."

A law-enforcement officer responding to a complaint wouldn't need to determine the title or specific words of a song, the memo says. The detection of the rhythmic bass component of the music would be sufficient to constitute a plainly audible sound.

Police chief Carl Kinnison said the new definitions make it easier for residents, business owners and police to determine what constitutes a noise disturbance. Under the existing ordinance, a noise disturbance is defined as any sound that endangers the safety or health of people or animals and annoys or disturbs "a reasonable person of normal sensitivities."

"With the plainly audible rule, it's easier to draw that line as to what's a violation and what's not a violation," Kinnison said.

The controversy came to a head last year, when Bel Air Bar and Grill drew several complaints from neighbors about its outdoor live bands being too disruptive late at night. Bel Air owner Misty Thrower said Monday she was advised not to comment because she has a court appearance today on those violations.

Council member Meg Davis Proffer, who was the council's liaison member on the committee, said she thinks the 300-foot parameter should be greater.

"We looked at what other cities do to come up with that number, but we need to look at what's best for Cape Girardeau, specifically," she said. "But I think this is a great starting point. The council may have to take a closer look at that number."

Committee chairman Charlie Herbst said the group wanted to make recommendations to the council in an attempt to address the concerns of the residences, while balancing the needs of the business owners to make a living.

"We were looking for a common ground," said Herbst, a former councilman and former police officer. "This sets out the rules and sets some expectations by the residents. It's a start. You have to start somewhere."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

701 Independence, Cape Girardeau, Mo

Map of pertinent addresses

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