Committee Paves The Way For Noise Ordinance Waiver

OSWEGO, NY – The Planning and Development Committee Monday night OK’d a request for a variance to the noise ordinance despite continued opposition from some residents.

Elizabeth and Robert McGrath, owners of Spencer’s Ali Tavern, 124 W. Second St., sought a variance or permit to operate outside of the decibel limits set forth in the Noise Ordinance, in order to have live music at their establishment Thursday through Sunday from May 29 through September 12, 2015.

Several area residents remain adamantly opposed to the variance, according to one speaker Monday night.

McGrath was granted a test waiver last weekend. And, according to the police chief, there were no complaints.

The bar owner wants to have live music on Thursdays (6 – 10 p.m.), Fridays and Saturdays (6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.) and Sundays (4 – 8 p.m.)

He requested a variance “not to exceed 80 decibels.

During this seasonal operational time period, they generate up to 70 percent of their sales for the year, he said, adding that it includes two quarters of the city’s sales tax table.

Councilor Fran Enwright said he appreciated McGrath’s willingness to compromise and lower the decibel limit he was applying for.

However, Steven Phillips maintained the sound was too long and the time allowed was too late.

He wanted to know where the noise would be measured. He claims it should be at the source of the noise.

“All we’ve been asking all along is to turn it back and turn it down early. I think it is unreasonable to have noise at 80 or 85, of course, we started out at 90 decibels, at 1 0’clock or 1:30 in the morning,” he told the committee. “Simply, turn the volume down.”

He told the councilors that he has heard them complain in the past about their department heads not being responsible.

“You are our department heads,” he said, adding that when they don’t pay attention to the concerns of their constituents, “it is the same scenario.”

If anyone has a complaint, they should call McGrath, Councilor Shawn Walker said. If there’s a problem, he’ll shut it down, he added.

“You just got to call him, if you’ve got a complaint. Mr. McGrath will work with anybody,” Walker said.

There is three sections in the code that deal with “noise,” City Attorney Gay Williams explained.

The one that deals with decibels (165-5) sets maximum permissible noise levels by decibel amounts is based on “levels by the receiving property.” They are different for different times of day and whether it is residential or commercial.

Section 165-3 is a general prohibition to making “unreasonable noise” which disturbs the repose or comfort of other individuals of the city.

Section 165-4 A-1 prohibits the production of sound in a manner that disturbs the peace and quiet across a real property boundary line. That gets measured from the boundary line nearest to the source of the complaint.

“Maybe there’s some inconsistency there. But, that’s what (the code) says now,” she said.

If there is a complaint, and the city is going to prosecute on a decibel level, then that would have to follow Section 165-5, she pointed out.

McGrath said he just wanted to be treated equal to the other businesses the council has already granted variances to.

“I’m asking for 80 decibels. That’s what you granted everyone else,” he said. “I just want to be treated the same.”

He added that he has taken steps to muffle the noise emanating from the establishment. His intent is to hang acoustic panels to further reduce the noise, he added.

How would an anonymous complaint be handled? Phillips asked.

Tory DeCaire explained that officers have gone to the businesses and asked them to turn it down.

“If it is an anonymous complaint, we measure it to get an accurate reading of what it is outside of public space under the unreasonable noise section,” he said.

The committee voted unanimously to send the request to the full council for consideration at its May 26 meeting.

At the end of the proposed resolution it states: if complaints are received as a result of excessive noise at the establishment, the Oswego City Police Department, upon investigation of the complaint, shall at their discretion be allowed to order the owner(s) or person in charge to lower the volume level or stop the live music at Spencer’s Ali Tavern located at 124 W. Second St.