February 5, 2014 | by Mark Lee
Howling at the moon: Dupont group decries noise
noise, gay news, Washington Blade

Claiming ignorance after moving into an entertainment district should not be grounds for later complaints regarding living in a commercial zone.

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?

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow him on Twitter, @MarkLeeDC or reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

4 Comments
  • If the noise bothers you, pack up and move to the burbs.

  • An odd but interesting story. The Palladium (1325 18th) doesn’t seem to be that near any bars or restaurants. So if they are hearing noise it’s from The Big Hunt and the other establishments in the 1300 block of Connecticut Avenue? Some of them do have roof decks facing the 1300 block of 18th. Or is the noise from around the corner, the 1700 block of N Street where the Tabard Inn and other wild venues are located?

    As I write this I am listening to jack hammers because the DC government (I assume) has decided that the sidewalks in West End on M Street should be brick, and not concrete any longer. Doing one block, the 2300 block of M, has taken them many many days. Some days they start at 6 am (including one Saturday), some at 7 am, today they waited until 8 am. West End is also host to a constant stream of overly loud sirens, as many other DC neighborhoods are, including Secret Service motorcades for vice presidents and ambassadors, ambulances to GW hospital, and police and fire trucks. Additionally, the area is full of hotels, and I assume the very, very loud drunks I can hear, almost nightly, around 2 am, screaming at each other, are hotel guests returning from events. (I’m surprised DC muggers don’t just wait on M Street in the Ritz Carlton – Fairmont corridor downtown for easy pickings, given the noisy oblivious people I hear almost every morning.)

    Overall I suspect the Palladium has it better than many other areas. And I suspect that most excessive and unnecessary noise in DC is caused by government emergency vehicles and government infrastructure projects. For now I think people should thoroughly check out a dwelling at different times of the day and week for noise before moving. And realize that choosing to live in DC and often choosing to live near a metro stop where there is commercial development, means not only higher rents but quality of life downsides related to noise and traffic. If you want less noise and lower rents or real estate prices, you may want to consider Michigan Park, Brightwood and other neighborhoods farther from downtown.

    • The Palladium residents have done extensive noise mapping of the neighborhood as published in their White Paper on their anti-noise website http://www.dcnightlifenoise.com. The noise they are targeting is ONLY the amplified music from outdoor spaces (roofdecks) in the 1200 blocks of 18th Street and Connecticut Avenue. Not the Big Hunt nor the Mad Hatter nor the Tabard Inn (which is cooperating with the Palladium residents to prevent noise trouble for the guests). The 1300 block of Connecticut has been taken out of play by agreements with the five alcohol businesses whose rear faces on 18th Street that they will close their outside space at 10:30 PM.

      The Palladium is about 600 feet across open space from the 1800 block of 18th St and the bothersome sound is heavily the bass drum beat from the amplified outside music. That
      sound has the special characteristic of penetrating walls even as the total sound attenuates with distance through the law of wave propagation. It disturbs the sleeper’s brain in a way that ordinary traffic and other sounds do not. And the residents are not complaining about the other noises anyway.

      The idea of complaining about noise that was present when one moved in is an interesting moral sort of idea, but irrelevant under DC noise disturbance law. And the gentrification wave in DC has triggered building residences nearer and nearer to nightlife noise, as for example on 14th Street on both sides of U Street.

      The basic solution is easily done: contain the amplified music within the business. Or lower the volume to levels that do not bother nearby residences. Since some of the bars installed the outside decks for smokers (so they won’t exit without paying), they can easily have no sound or only low level sound outside and all the deafening sound inside that the patrons demand.

  • If you don’t want to follow the law, pack up and close down your nuisance nightclub.

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