OCEAN CITY – Fed up with the disruptive levels of music some businesses are playing routinely along the Boardwalk, the city is moving forward in enforcing action against disruptive levels of music.
Planning and Community Development Director Jesse Houston and Police Captain Kevin Kirstein followed up this week with the Mayor and City Council to discuss noise issues on the Boardwalk, or more specifically music being amplified from businesses to the Boardwalk and beach.
“Our codes are pretty well set,” Houston said. “We may need some tweaking here or there but I think with some enforcement we can easily handle this problem.”
Houston came forward with a recommendation on how to amend the noise code. The recommendation updates the wording within the sound amplification portion of the code by prohibiting the sound to be directed toward the Boardwalk or the beach. The language has already been set in place within the city’s zoning code regarding outdoor displays on the Boardwalk.
“We put it in here [noise ordinance] so it can apply to any store or any business that feels like they need to amplify out towards the Boardwalk and it would require them to aim the speakers in toward the store,” Houston said.
Kirstein s believes the recommendation would be helpful in balancing the noise levels on the Boardwalk.
“The Boardwalk is a balancing act, it is very delicate, and we try to take enforcement action when it needs to be done to contain public safety,” he said.
Kirstein added that while researching ways to tweak the code methods were found to enforce the level of noise emanating from street performers on the Boardwalk.
“We found some teeth in the law where I think it will help us there,” he said. “If you are not a voluntary listener to their group, or you can hear further away from that, than we can make them shut down.”
The second portion to the recommendation read, “In no case shall the noise level exceed 65 dB(A) during the daytime hours and 55 dB(A) during the nighttime hours.” The language is already included in the code protecting residential areas but not commercial.
“I put that in there as sort of a catch all to limit the noises but Kevin [Capt. Kirstein] will tell you it’s very difficult to measure noise on the Boardwalk because of all of the noises already there,” Houston said. “If we want to go that far, we could address it in a manner saying that the noise can’t be amplified any louder than the noise of the Boardwalk.”
Kirstein said that it is not the police department’s recommendation to include the noise decimal reading in the code.
“I can’t take a meter reading on the Boardwalk,” he said. “The ocean is in violation.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas became concerned over violating the level playing field among the businesses on the Boardwalk. For example, why can amusement parks allow loud music to spill out onto the boardwalk but retail stores cannot.
According to Kirstein, there was an ordinance passed in 1972 grandfathering amusement parks and arcades into the code.
Councilman Joe Hall supported the fact that if there are changes to make to the code the playing field needs to remain fair among the businesses.
“The reality is Ocean City has never been marketed as a quiet resort,” he said. “I think the real answer to this is if the landlord stands up to the plate and we show violations similar to what we do with the noise ordinance in a residential area.”
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed with Kirstein that the Boardwalk becomes a balancing act when it comes to noise levels but recognized that there is a problem erupting concerning specific stores and the music, or lyrics, being amplified from their area. He said that he has received a number of emails from people who have said they will not return to Ocean City consequently.
“We want the Boardwalk to be a fun place and it really is, but there are a few locations you walk by and it is not fun,” he said. “It is common sense as to what the problem is and we need to figure out a way to address it or it is going to continue to get worse.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres reviewed the enforcement that can take place if a store becomes in violation of the noise ordinance. First, the police will write a citation for the violation of the municipal ordinance, which depending on the severity can result in a penalty of $500-$1,000 fine. Businesses can receive multiple citations but if they refuse to obey the law they can be cited with disturbing the peace, an arrestable offense.
The council voted unanimously to approve the recommendations made by Houston and Kirstein, but to have them return so that enforceable guidelines can be worked out.
“We have been talking about this for a long time and it is time that we do something,” Meehan said. “We need to have an ordinance in place that is enforceable … we have to give them [police] the ability and support in enforcing this ordinance and make sure that we take action against this problem because it is just going to get worse.”