CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte City Council unanimously passed a new noise ordinance Monday night that attempts to protect the eardrums of residents while keeping outdoor music as part of the city's nightlife.
The city reopened its 25-year-old noise ordinance after Elizabeth residents complained about music from bars.
In the first draft of a revised ordinance, the city proposed banning amplified music if it was within 400 feet of a residential area.
That prompted an outcry from bar owners and musicians, who said the ordinance would cripple the area's burgeoning music scene.
The city scrapped that proposal, and the ordinance that passed Monday appears to have the general support of the group Save Charlotte Music.
But one local resident said the new ordinance is "worthless."
Frank Caldwell, 88, said he is upset over music from the Elizabeth bar Philosopher's Stone.
"This ordinance makes people like myself feel like they are a one-legged person who has been sent out in a kicking contest," Caldwell said.
The new ordinance will cap outdoor music at 85 decibels on Friday and Saturday nights from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. The noise must drop to 60 decibels from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
There can be no outdoor music on any night between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.
If the city receives a complaint, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police or code enforcement officers will measure decibel levels at the property line of the bar.
In the previous ordinance, noise was capped at 55 decibels, but it was measured at the property line of the resident who had a complaint.
Charlotte Assistant City Attorney Robert Hagemann said 55 decibels was low enough that it would pick up ambient noises from other businesses or traffic. He said that an 85 decibel cap at the source of the sound will force some musicians to lower their volume.
A jet airplane taking off from 100 yards away can register 120 decibels. The sound of cars driving on a city street can register 85 decibels.
In some instances, the 85-decibel limit could make things worse for residents if their property is adjacent to a bar or restaurant with live music.
In that case, Hagemann said the business can be considered a "chronic noise producer" and the city will work with residents and the business to reach an agreement between the two sides.
In backing away from the blanket 400-foot ban, the city has tried to act only when people complain.
"This will be complaint-driven," Hagemann said.
Caldwell said that's part of the problem.
"It puts the enforcement on the citizen," he said.
The city will review in six months how the new ordinance is working. By expanding enforcement to code enforcement, Hagemann said CMPD can be freed to do other things.
"We think we have given staff more tools," he said.
Democrat Nancy Carter said she thought the ordinance was "sensitive to the creative class."
Phil Rossi of Save Charlotte Music said his members "generally support the new ordinance."
The city could levy a $1,000 fine against bars and restaurants that don't comply with the ordinance. After a second offense, a business could lose the right to have any outdoor music for 18 months.
Before issuing a citation, the city must determine that the sound is "unreasonably loud and disturbing to the quiet enjoyment and use of residential property."
The new ordinance could also impact some areas of uptown.
Hotels are considered residential property, so some downtown bars might have to turn down the volume.
Republican Andy Dulin said he was worried about the impact on downtown bars.
"We're getting ready to have a pretty big convention here in 16 months," said Dulin, referring to the Democratic National Convention. "And we're going to tell them to turn down the music at 9?"