The tiny cadre of chronic complainers railing against the indignities of city living in D.C.’s Dupont Circle mixed-use neighborhood seldom fail to amaze and amuse.
So it was once again this week when Washington City Paper advised that yet another small ad hoc anti-business group had launched in the commercial district. Headlined “Citizen Vigilante Group Forms to Combat Noise in Dupont,” the publication reported that residents of the Palladium Condominium, directly adjacent to the six-lane Connecticut Avenue, N.W., commercial thoroughfare, were upset about noise from nightlife venues in the downtown area.
Named the D.C. Nightlife Noise Coalition, the assemblage appears to be the latest incarnation of one formed by Palladium resident Abigail Nichols, now a Dupont Circle neighborhood advisory commission member from district 2B-05. Her group, the Alcohol Sanity Coalition D.C., was formed in an unsuccessful effort opposing liquor-licensing reforms enacted a little over a year ago.
Nichols had argued that nightlife establishments have a monetary incentive to play music with “a rhythmic beat” at elevated levels. She publicly claimed that “alcohol tastes sweeter in the presence of loud music” and that “young males consume beer 20 percent faster” when listening to it.
The new “anti-noise” gaggle is demanding enforcement of a city ordinance limiting exterior sound within one meter outside venues to less than 60 decibels, the equivalent of two persons laughing during normal conversation. In a 23-page document detailing their annoyance, building residents acknowledge that this measurement is equivalent to “a quiet conversation.”
Sound measurements conducted in another part of the city by a restaurant battling objections to an outdoor patio abutting a major traffic artery registered a passing Metrobus at decibel levels in the mid-to-high-80s, with patron conversations adding no additional noise to the surrounding area. Sound meter readings by the Dupont coterie indicate that in seven of eight instances the noise level immediately outside area nightlife establishments overlapped with the ambient levels of auto traffic prior to venue opening.
This so-called “citizen group” objects to standard city inspector protocol to first verify that an excessive noise level exists within the complaining person’s home. They argue that, according to the law, the sound measurement must be made within one meter – or 3.28 feet – of the business. City regulators, however, have discovered that businesses targeted by coordinated cliques generate anonymous phone complaints without merit or from blocks away. In a high-profile instance several years ago on U Street, officials utilized Caller ID to visit the home of a woman who had phoned in nearly 100 complaints, finding no unusual noise could be heard inside her apartment.
These Dupont dwellers are actually late to the public discussion regarding noise abatement strategies and should be careful what they wish for in any official response. A D.C. Council committee recently engaged a task force meeting for two years to make recommendations regarding revising noise regulations. Key among the determinations was requiring housing construction soundproofing materials and window qualities to prevent noise seepage into units.
That should be of concern to Steve Coniglio, developer of 70 planned units of housing on a commercially zoned street only a half-block from several nightclubs, who has joined the complaining Palladium residents around the corner. Is it not his responsibility to ensure construction includes sufficient soundproofing to mitigate noise originating within a commercial area? Or should he be allowed to build housing units not adequately designed for urban noise?
Claiming ignorance after moving into an entertainment district, however, should not be grounds for later complaints regarding living in a commercial zone.
Before this disgruntled group howls too loudly, they might pause to consider the potential downside to their whining. If the city determines that current noise restrictions are unrealistically low or unenforceable, the likely solution may be to either raise the allowable level or officially require that sound measurements be conducted inside the complainants’ domicile.
How loudly would a hearty cackle register on a sound monitor?