DC Nightlife Noise


Sep 10 Nightclub noise  Dupont Current editorial

If you own a nightclub, it’s understandable that you’d want to be able to take the party outside onto your roof or patio. Not only does it let you accommodate more patrons, but many customers will also value being able to revel out in the fresh air.
But if you own a home that backs to such a nightclub, it’s understandable that you’d want live entertainment and other amplified music to stay indoors. Such is the clash of interests that is found in many bustling mixed-use areas — and that the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board recently sought to address regarding Ozio Martini and Cigar Bar in southern Dupont Circle.
In that case, the board wisely sided with nearby Jefferson Row condo owners. Its order prohibits Ozio from having bands perform on the roof, requires the bar to keep the roof closed when the club features entertainment, and bans amplified sounds that can be heard inside a residence.
In the District, a license to serve alcohol comes with the condition that an establishment not disrupt the peace, order and quiet of the surrounding community. This doesn’t preclude loud nightclubs from operating. In this case, all the neighbors asked was that the noise be kept indoors rather than shouted from the rooftops.
Ozio is asking the board to reconsider its ruling, noting that both its property and Jefferson Row are on commercially zoned land. This exempts Ozio from restrictions on music that’s audible beyond an establishment’s property.
But the board’s order already accommodates more noise from Ozio than city law allows near residentially zoned areas. The board specified only that the club’s amplified sounds shouldn’t be heard inside a home — as opposed to just anywhere outside of its property. This strikes a fair and appropriate balance, acknowledging Ozio’s commercial zoning without disregarding
neighbors’ rights to some degree of peace, order and quiet simply on the basis of their homes’ land-use designation.
More will be needed, though, to protect the vitality of D.C.’s increasing number of mixed-use neighborhoods for all users. Activists in various communities have called for more consistent enforcement of noise regulations, which we agree is a critical first step. In the Ozio case, the alcohol board paid little heed to noise evidence from either the establishment or the community’s DC Nightlife Noise Coalition because neither party conducted legally sufficient tests.
This speaks to the need for more D.C. government involvement in noise issues.

Aug 25. City Paper article by Perry Stein    After Residents Complain, Dupont’s Ozio Forced to Limit Music on Its Roof.

Mar 26. Press release : CM Orange Witnesses Noise from Dupont Circle Clubs

Mar 26. Washington City Paper article by Perry Stein. Dupont Circle Citizens Take on Loud Nightclubs, One Decibel Reading at a Time.

Mar 21. Press Release on Hearing ABRA Hearing Lasts 7 Hours in Dupont Circle Protest

Mar 17. InTowner article Newly Formed Neighborhood Group Seeks Ways to Curb Excessive Nightclub Noise  by Ben Lasky

Mar 12.  Press release by ABRA ABRA Kicks Off Compliance Campaign on Noise Laws

Mar 12. Dupont Current article District set to amp up nightlife noise checks

Mar 9.  Press Release: Despite Promises, Mayor Gray, DC Officials Still Not Enforcing Noise Law in Dupont Circle

Mar 5. Press Release: Council, Mayor Vow to Control Dupont Circle Club Noise

Feb 19. Dupont Current lead editorial on noise in mixed-use neighborhoods:

Making some noise
Before any D.C. establishment is granted a license to sell alcohol, it must demonstrate that its activities won’t disturb the peace, order and quiet of nearby residents. These clear legal entitlements are backed up by a noise law that caps nighttime volume at 60 decibels. What is less clear is how rigidly these rules can be applied in a vibrant mixed-use area — such as southern Dupont Circle, where some residents recently formed the D.C. Nightlife Coalition to push for more enforcement of noise rules. Many alcohol-serving establishments and their supporters argue that the standards are unreasonable and that noise complaints are mis-directed toward clubs or bars rather than the general hubbub of city living. While there may indeed be cases in which residents are pinning the blame on the wrong noise source, we have little doubt that there are times when establishments produce illegal noise. The Dupont residents reportedly measured a 90-decibel roar coming from the outdoor areas of clubs and bars. And there is good reason that residents are supposed to be guaranteed peace, order and quiet: Frequent sleepless nights are a serious quality-of-life issue, and one that could also jeopardize property values in what should be highly desirable sections of town. Yes, a nightclub that constantly nags patrons to kindly keep their voices down would struggle to stay in business. But adequate soundproofing is a cost of doing business, and it’s one some establishments appear to dodging. That said, there must be some compromises. A mixed-use community encompasses what its name promises — a mix of uses. Such areas must be hospitable to both residential and commercial uses. Just like bars and clubs can’t expect to blast loud music with impunity, their neighbors can’t expect to emulate the hushed stillness of Crestwood, Spring Valley or the suburbs. D.C. regulators must make more of an effort to monitor nightlife noise and require fixes when clear violations occur. Doing so will help clarify expectations — and is necessary to make mixed-use neighborhoods work.

Feb 18. Press release on ABRA oversight hearing testimony by Sarah Peck and Abigail Nichols. Coalition will Testify at ABRA Oversight Hearing About Noise Problem

Feb 12.  Katie Pearce front page article in Dupont Current, Push to enforce noise rules sparks debate, presents a balanced view of the debate. Quotes Peck, O'Connor, Lee, and Moosally.

Feb 9. Columnist Mark Lee of the Washington Blade and Logan Circle neighborhood, commented on a Feb 9 Washington Post article on moratoriums in the District.   They are the beast no one will drive a stake through the heart.  We replied that:

Thank you for commenting on the moratorium question, We agree that a moratorium is a blunt tool for obtaining appropriate limits on competitive capitalism.  But once a community government decides on a limitation through democratic law-making, those limits should be respected.  DC long ago decided on laws against unlimited sound on nearby residents, regardless of how they got there. We are campaigning for voluntary limits on noise/sound by alcohol businesses onto residents, and enforcement of legally imposed limits on external sound in the absence of voluntary limitation. We hope you agree with the principle that laws are to be respected as much as we respect your right to advocate for different laws.

Feb 6. The residents join the comment scrum at City Paper:

As they say for examinations: Read the Problem. The Dupont residents are asking for only one thing in their campaign - amplified music to be contained within the business. To get that result, they appeal to the enforcement mechanisms that were put in law for that purpose. All the other usual noises of a busy city are accepted: traffic, sirens, noisy drunks, auto horns, all those things recognized by law and custom as part of city life. And so far, the businesses that the residents have talked with as part of their license renewal process are co-operating in concert with their desire to be good neighbors. If the rest of them also co-operate, there will be no need for intense enforcement. If they do not cooperate, the residents will appeal to the Alcohol Control Board to impose such condition for the license, or to the police to enforce the law's intended noise control for residential or SP zones, no matter how close to a commercial zone. The city cannot have it both ways: to induce residential building with residential protections and commercial establishments free to violate those residential protections. In this case, the only protection being pursued is amplified music outside the business.

Feb 5.   Howling at the moon: Dupont group decries noise is Mark Lee's piece in the Washington Blade. He suggests, of course, that noise is an unavoidable consequence of city living in or near a commercial zone.  And that if the "The new 'anti-noise' gaggle" wins their case, the City Council might change the law to force new construction standards of residences near commerce. Which is possible but would pit the developers against the nightlife in a fight the politicians would not enjoy. Meanwhile, the DC law still forbids more than 60dB(A). And at least five responsible nightlife businesses have already taken steps to contain their sound. It's not a contest between clubs and the neighbors when there is no profit in clubs' creating outside noise. It's more a question of the businesses' handling their externalities rather than dumping them on the public. Responsible businesses do so, which is the purpose of the DC noise control laws.
Note: two comments posted on Lee's piece:  1. by jerry -  If the noise bothers you, pack up and move to the burbs; 2. .by Shaw - If you don’t want to follow the law, pack up and close down your nuisance nightclub. 

Feb 5.  Greater Greater Washington repeated the City Paper piece with the comment that at least one ANC commissioner thinks they might expect too much quiet given where they live. It also repeated the  public comments that ridiculed an expectation of quiet in such a zone.  We expect and accept noise from sirens, auto horns, heavy traffic, drunks shouting, occasional loud scuffles between inebriates, and even two murders.  But the  open-air high volume rock music with a strong bass beat goes beyond reasonable expectation into physical harm to residents which is why the District has a law that forbids it. The clubs can play all the bass beat music they want, at any volume they want  - INSIDE - as long as it stays inside. 

Feb 5.  The comment storm continues at City Paper between those understand the problem and those who treat all noise as unavoidable.  Abigail Nichols of the Nightlife Noise Coalition, and ANC2B Commissioner with fifty-plus alcohol licenses in her district, answered some of the comments with:

Thank you to our supporters, please join our coalition at DCNightlifeNoise.com. Our critics have opinions but too few facts. They don’t seriously deal with our white paper. There are good reasons noise laws apply everywhere. Too much noise injures humans – and deafness isn’t the only bad result. DC law realistically allows noise to be somewhat higher in commercial zones than in residential areas, but Club Central noise greatly exceeds even commercial zone limits. Besides, the 40-year-old Palladium isn’t in a commercial area, and areas adjacent to commercial zones are protected. The Palladium’s mix of students, working singles, couples with young children, and others who have aged in place is just what our zoning envisions.  ... and BTW, neither the Mad Hatter nor the Big Hunt is a problem bar.

Feb 4, 2014. Washington City Paper published a story about our campaign with the headline, "Citizen Vigilante Group Forms to Combat Noise in Dupont," by Perry Stein. The story quotes ANC2B Commissioner O'Connor as recognizing that the complaint is valid, but adding, "I am not sure that the views they represent are the views of all the Dupont Circle [neighborhood]."  We can assure Mr. O'Connor that anyone living within hearing of this unlawful noise wants to it to be turned down.  We also take exception to the use of the term vigilante, because it suggests that we are operating outside of law.  Quite the opposite, we merely are seeking enforcement of existing law. What we want to know is, what are the views of Mayor Gray?  Will he enforce existing law? 

Press release  Feb 4, 2014 -  Liquor Official Responds to Persistent Dupont Circle Noise Problem on Feb 3 meeting the ABRA Director Fred Moosally.

Letter to the Editor, Dupont Current, Jan 24, 1014 Residents have right to nighttime quiet Mr. Huckenpöhler’s [Sheridan-Kalorama] from Jan. 8 letter was amusing, [Relevant passage:
 On the ruined wedding reception, (the subject of so many letters to the editor): It’s clear to me that Mr. Greene needs to find himself a place out at the far end of Loudoun County, with lots of acres, so that he is entirely surrounded by nothing and has no neighbors to disturb his precious silence. City living means having neighbors, and on occasion hearing them. Anyone who can’t deal with this has no business living in the city.]
but on one point I must take issue. He says that Mr. Greene should move to the outer reaches of Loudoun County — a terrible fate to wish on someone — because he complained about the noisy wedding party. When we choose to live in a city, we are choosing to live in a community. In that case we must all be willing to give up some of our private rights so we do not impose on the other residents of our community. Dog owners, mostly, clean up after their pets. Drivers, again mostly, stop for red lights even if no police officer is in view. Homeowners put their trash out on trash days. The community by law and regulation has decided that residents have a right to not be disturbed in their homes at certain times. In the evenings the time decided on was 10 p.m. This wasn’t an arbitrary decision by Mr. Greene; it reflects the wishes of the community. If Mr. Huckenpöhler thinks that noisy parties should be permitted later in the evenings or that noisy construction projects should start earlier than 7 a.m., then he should get out there and agitate for it. My guess, based on having lived in the city 45 years, is that he would be on a very lonely crusade. [by Jerry Barrett Washington, D.C.]