OCEAN CITY – The restaurant and bar industry is asking for the town’s noise ordinance to be tweaked as a result of the Board of License Commissioners becoming more stringent over violations.
Seacrets owner Leighton Moore came before the Police Commission on Monday morning to recommend changes to the town’s noise ordinance.
Currently, the town’s law regarding noise emanating from dancehalls and nightclubs states, “… no noise emanates from such establishment which is in excess of 65 dB(A) in the daytime hours and 55 dB(A) in the nighttime hours at the adjoining property line or is plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet from the establishment; and each day any such dancehall, nightclub or other business, as aforesaid, shall be operated, maintained or carried on in violation of this division shall constitute a separate offense.”
Moore asserted the noise meter reading should be taken from the complainant’s property line, not 50 feet from the business’s property line.
“Right now, if somebody calls in and they are three blocks away, I don’t know if they really heard anything, or heard music from cars on the street,” Moore said.
Moore used the example of Warren’s Mobile Home Park that is the adjoining neighboring community to the north of Seacrets.
“Let’s say the mobile home park calls in. I think it [meter reading] should be taken and ascertained as to the level that they are hearing, not 50 feet from my property line,” he said. “It would be fair if they do get a meter reading, and it is longer than 30 seconds that they warn the establishment that it is indeed in violation, and the establishment has 20 minutes to secure.”
Moore also suggested after three warnings in a calendar year a violation is submitted each time after.
“Winds do change and sometimes in the heat of the battle to make a living you don’t realize it. That wind could be coming from the east and be blowing out into the bay, but if the wind changes and comes from the south the noise will be hitting the mobile home park and we don’t even realize it,” Moore said. “The way it [ordinance] is written somebody could really do damage to the entertainment outside venues or inside venues for that matter. I would like to just see it addressed, and if necessary make it so it could not be arbitrary.”
According to Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Capt. Kevin Kirstein, the department does not receive many complaints over Seacrets but this past summer season there were repeating issues with a few locations downtown.
Moore came before the commission speaking on behalf of a number of licensees, as noise complaints are being viewed with serious consideration by the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners, an appointed body that grants alcohol licenses and hears any type of violation of the licenses once issued. After recent noise violations, the board has shown a proclivity for acting with a heavy hand, particularly for repeat offenders, and has also been hesitant to issue specific entertainment privileges when neighbors express early concerns.
“The Board of License Commissioners is unmerciful. They don’t want to hear it,” Moore said. “They are now changing what they are giving as far as the license and the ability in what you can do with music and sound because of the transgressions of one or two establishments. I don’t want to see our industry hampered anymore by different changes in attitude that aren’t justified.”
Kirstein explained the department’s noise enforcement unit also follows the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that allows for more flexibility then the ordinance when it comes to noise.
“The law does say 50 feet, but I know the guys take it upon themselves ordinarily to double that distance before they make an enforcement action,” he said. “If we are going to do it by ear, we require the officers to be able to identify the song or the words to include in the report … noise meters are very difficult to use in this town but we try to use them for commercial properties.”
Kirstein furthered the department does not notify the Board of License Commissioners over a noise complaint, only when there is a violation written.
“It is not unusual for us to get a noise complaint and the complainant wants to remain anonymous but Communications does a pretty good job in finding out where they are located, whether it is hotel or a neighborhood,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan questioned if the police department’s practice should become policy.
“I am concerned and always have been over anonymous calls, or at least finding out where they come from so that they can take the reading. It seems arbitrary and one sided. I think we all remember we did have a person in town who would do these kinds of things to cause problems for the businesses, and that is just not right,” Meehan said.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres responded anonymous calls are made by those who are afraid of retribution. He added the purpose of the ordinance is to force property owners to keep the noise level confined to their establishments.
“The way this is worded [Moore’s recommendation] it doesn’t make a difference how much noise comes off the property, as long as it doesn’t break the level from where ever they are complaining from,” Ayres said.
Moore persisted an issue arises when nobody complains around his property but a complaint is received from a distance.
“If somebody complains from two blocks away, I would think the noise level would be over 55 dB(A) at that location, not at my location,” he said.
Brett Wolf of the Noise Board interjected the board has dealt with incidents when noise complaints would be received from Baltimore.
“They would just call to complain because they were trying to prove a point against a specific property … so if you wanted to create a problem for a business, you could call every night and report noise, and the police have to respond and eventually will find a noise violation regardless of how diligent that business owner is,” he said.
Police Commission Chair Councilman Doug Cymek, who previously served on the Noise Board, agreed with Moore’s recommendation to take meter readings from the origin of the complaint.
“You have raised some good points, and I support you on a couple of them … I think it warrants some tweaking of the ordinance. We will probably need to sit down and talk with the police department and the head of the noise unit that is out there on the front line taking the readings. I think you will feel a little bit more comfortable,’ he said.
Meehan added suggested letting the commercial industry in on the SOP to ease concerns associated with the Board of License Commissioners issuing license suspensions or fines as a result of the noise violation.
“That is what puts the businesses in jeopardy, and sometimes they aren’t aware of the problem until after the fact,” he said. “I think 99 percent of licensees comply and play by the rules, and the Board of License Commissioners is trying to do the right thing to make sure they handle things properly but we need to make sure whatever is written in here is what we are doing.”
Councilman Dennis Dare made a motion for the police department to report back to the commission at the next meeting on Jan. 12 with the appropriate personnel in attendance to propose any appropriations of the ordinance form.
“The SOP isn’t readily available to a lot of people, and maybe there are some things in the SOP that would be more appropriate in the ordinance,” he said.
Dare suggested having the procedure of what is reported to the Board of License Commissioners reviewed as well.
“I have had complaints from license holders over complaints being submitted as opposed to violations, and if when warnings are given are they reported,” Dare said.
Dare concluded he also wanted the department to consider always having a meter reading conducted if a violation is being submitted.
The commission voted unanimously to approve the motion.