DC Nightlife Noise


Performance Oversight Hearing – Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration

Thomas J McMahon, Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Good morning.  I’m Thomas J. McMahon and I live at 1325 18th Street NW, in Club Central.  When I moved in about 10 years ago, there was no bar across the street, there were no roof decks pumping out amplified noise wildly above the legal limits.  ABRA has allowed this incursion, even encouraged it. 

People cannot throw garbage on their neighbors’ sidewalks, they cannot smoke in front of building entrances.  Why does ABRA permit business owners to assault their neighbors with excessive and harmful noise levels?

The physics of sound waves is complex – they bend and swoop and bounce off hard surfaces like the large buildings around Club Central.  What I can hear on the 3rd floor, buffered by nearby low buildings, is very different from what my neighbors directly above me can hear on the 8th and 9th floors.  The Noise Control Act was passed to ensure residents are not assaulted by unreasonably loud and continuous noise.  A passing bus or truck may make a lot of noise, but it’s not parked there for 4 or 5 continuous hours.  Our city officials pay more attention to regulating garbage truck noise than club noise.

There are law-abiding bar owners and there are law breakers.  Like a tide, the bar owners have slowly enveloped the neighborhood, jumping out of the moratorium area and across Connecticut Avenue, most recently pushing the legal limits by adding ridiculously amplified music -- up to 105 decibels when the legal limit is 60 -- to open roof decks, flooding the neighborhood with noise far above the legal limits of the Noise Control Act. 

Clubs say that residents who move into Club Central should expect noise.  However, please note that the Palladium was there in the 1970s – and some of the residents have lived there since the 1970s – significantly predating the bars making excessive noise.  In any case, the bars are breaking the laws and District offices – specifically ABRA – have failed in their legal obligations to hold them accountable.  And the present attempts to exclude residents from the process of granting or extending licenses is nothing but a sell-out to give certain bar owners anything they want.  The Mayor and the Council should see to it that ABRA enforces the laws.  No licenses for bar owners who refuse to comply with the law.

One simple solution might be found by having the rook decks go wireless – remove the speakers altogether and pump the music instead through a local wireless operation to the smartphones and earbuds that every customer no doubt already has.  That would reduce the ambient noise level, allow patrons to make the music as loud they chose, permit conversations, save the hearing of the employees, be cheaper in the long run than maintaining the amplification system, and comply with the law.

Make ABRA do its job, make ABRA enforce the laws.