Addressing Noise

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It is vital that you take every reasonable step to mitigate the level of noise generated from your business. In addition to noise generated by any live entertainment on your premises, you should try to reduce the noise created by individuals who are waiting to enter or leave your premises or congregating in any outdoor patio, smoking area, or parking lot attached to your premises.

Noise limits are enforced by a number of City departments, including the Department of Public Health, the Police Department, the Entertainment Commission (where the noise is generated by entertainment venues), the Planning Department (where the noise violates a business’s conditional use approval), and the Department of Building Inspection (regulating construction noise and noise related to the improper installation of mechanical equipment). Noise limits different from the statutory limits discussed below may be established in permits issued by City agencies.

A. Noise Limits for Nightlife Businesses Generally

A number of ordinances regulate the generation of noise inside the City. Section 49 of the Police Code prohibits the use of musical instruments or amplified sound:

in such manner as to produce raucous noises or in such manner so as to disturb the peace, quiet and comfort of persons in the neighborhood or with volume louder than is necessary for convenient hearing for the person or persons for whom said machine, instrument or device is operated.

The section further states that, “The operation of any such set, instrument, phonograph, juke box, broadcasting equipment, machine or device between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., in such a manner as to be plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet from the property line of the property from whence the sound is emitted, shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this Section.”

Article 29 of the Police Code establishes additional limits on noise. The general rule for noise emanating from commercial property is:

No person shall produce or allow to be produced by any machine, or device, music or entertainment or any combination of same, on commercial or industrial property over which the person has ownership or control, a noise level more than eight dBA above the local ambient at any point outside of the property plane.

Additionally, specific limits are established relating to the impact of fixed noise sources on adjacent residential property:

[N]o fixed noise source may cause the noise level measured inside any sleeping or living room in any dwelling unit located on residential property to exceed 45 dBA between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. or 55 dBA between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 10:00p.m. with windows open except where building ventilation is achieved through mechanical systems that allow windows to remain closed.

Noise limits also apply to the disposal of garbage and recycling from your property:

It shall be unlawful for any person authorized to engage in waste removal, collection, or disposal services or recycling removal or collection services to provide such services so as to create an unnecessary amount of noise…

B. Noise Limits for Entertainment Venues

Businesses with entertainment permits are also subject to a low frequency dBC limit:

No noise or music associated with a licensed Place of Entertainment, licensed Limited Live Performance Locale, or other location subject to regulation by the Entertainment Commission or its Director, shall exceed the low frequency ambient noise level defined in Section 2901(f) by more than 8 dBC.

The code defines the low frequency ambient noise level used to evaluate the dBC limit for entertainment venues as:

[T]he lowest sound level repeating itself during a ten-minute period…The minimum sound level shall be determined with the music or entertainment noise source at issue silent, and in the same location as the measurement of the noise level of the source or sources at issue. However, for purposes of this chapter, in no case shall the local ambient be considered or determined to be less than: (1) Forty-five dBC for interior residential noise, and (2) Fifty-five dBC in all other locations.

C. Strategies to Reduce Noise

Limiting the volume of sound escaping from your property is critical to maintaining positive relationships with your neighbors and ensuring the long-term sustainability of your business. A number of strategies may be employed to reduce sound leakage from your establishment, including installing double entry doors or buffering walls or ceilings. Be sure that your establishment has adequate ventilation so that no doors or windows are left open for ventilation purposes. Finally, consider engaging a sound consultant to evaluate your premises and work with you on ways to mitigate noise, including using volume-limiting devices and adjusting the placement of your speakers.

It’s important to remember that noise outside your establishment – generated by patrons as they enter or exit, or while they are smoking outside your venue – can be just as significant an impediment to neighbors as sound inside your business is. As noted below, the Entertainment Commission’s Good Neighbor Policy offers useful strategies to reduce noise outside your premises, including posting an employee at the entrance of the establishment to urge patrons outside the premises to respect the quiet and cleanliness of the neighborhood.

To help you understand the volume of sound generated by your premises, you should consider purchasing a sound meter. Sound meter applications are also available for mobile phones. The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) uses sound level meters that meet the standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). According to OSHA:

For compliance purposes, readings with an ANSI Type 2 sound level meter and dosimeter are considered to have an accuracy of ±2 dBA, while a Type 1 instrument has an accuracy of ±1 dBA.

A Type 2 meter is the minimum requirement by OSHA for noise measurements, and is usually sufficient for general purpose noise surveys.

The Type 1 meter is preferred for the design of cost-effective noise controls.

D. Noise Abatement for Entertainment Venues

If you are operating an entertainment business and the noise from your business is interfering with your neighbors’ peaceful and quiet use and enjoyment of their property, the Entertainment Commission may require your premises to be soundproofed in order to eliminate the noise or reduce it to a reasonable level. Failure to comply with an order to reduce noise within a reasonable time may result in the suspension of your entertainment permit until you satisfactorily comply with the commission’s order.

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