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‘Quiet down!,’ French Quarter neighborhood groups declare!

18th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

A leading group of Vieux Carré residents have been engaged in a pitched battle calling upon the city to enforce public noise ordinances on the books—and strengthen residents’ protections against noise pollution in the French Quarter.

“Silencing music?” their critics mutter. These people want to kill the very thing that makes French Quarter special!

“Not so,” said Carol Allen, presi­dent of Vieux Carré Property Own­ers and Renters Association, one of the leading advocates of stronger enforcement of neighborhood noise ordinances in the historic neighborhood. In an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, Allen said the city’s music culture would be improved if NOPD paid a bit more attention to the existing regulations.

Greater enforcement would show “a positive effect, not negative,” she explained. “Serious musicians surely want to hear themselves, protect their hearing (the most precious instrument any musician has), and entertain their clients. When noise limits run amuck, musicians cannot hear each other, their own hearing is damaged, and clients aren’t listening for the art of the music. Clients are being hoodwinked into louder noise, forcing them to move on, to drink more alcohol, and really not care about the quality of the musicians. This is NOT New Orleans music culture. We love our musicians, and we want to see them appreciated.”

“Also, a part of the noise ordinance is enforcing the permitting for live entertainment venues. If anybody, at any time, can hire musicians to provide live entertainment, now fair is that to those clubs that abide by the laws? Laws are in place to protect businesses and residents alike. The fact of the matter is, enforcement of the noise ordinance has been so lax for so long that too many people think anything goes. That’s killing our music culture, and the magical bond between our residents and our music culture.”

Brian Furness of French Quarter Citizens, Inc. agreed, noting, “Zoning tries to ensure that uses are compatible. It becomes a noise issue if the sound gets out of hand. Both zoning and noise laws are in place to protect businesses and residents alike. It’s also a fairness issue: How is it fair to clubs and business that abide by the laws to permit venues that flout the law?”

Furness is quick to point out that he and his neighborhood allies are not seeking some massive expansion of noise regulations, just better enforcement. “We’re not proposing “expansion.” The goal has to be reasonable controls on sound that are sensitive to the rights of residents to peaceful enjoyment, musicians, and businesses while protecting and enhancing New Orleans’ historic cultural traditions and attractiveness to visitors.”

“The current law has many provisions that draw an appropriate balance between entertainment and peaceable enjoyment. These include limits on sound intruding into people’s homes — if I can’t sleep because of the level of “music/noise” in your establishment, you are not being a good neighbor, and I can’t respect you—; hours of operation — what’s appropriate at 7 p.m. may not be appropriate at 2 a.m.; and location — what’s acceptable on Bourbon Street is probably not acceptable in Lakeview … or even in the residential areas of the French Quarter. And remember, people lived in the French Quarter long before there were jazz funerals. “

“The law also has to protect people’s health. Musicians’ hearing is a real concern to anybody interested in New Orleans’ cultural traditions. But who enforces the law is less important than that the law be enforced fairly and consistently … isn’t that what we ask of all law enforcement?”

Allen explained that the goal of her group is simply “Reasonable noise limits. If my home is near your club and I can’t sleep because of the level of “music/noise” in your establishment, you are not being a good neighbor, and I can’t respect you. If the employees in your club are having to wear ear plugs, and employees in businesses near your club are doing the same, your music/noise is too loud. You are endangering peoples’ health.”

Moreover, the VCPORA President maintained that neighborhood music clubs should be governed by “reasonable hours of operation” as well as a more active effort for public noise “enforcement”.

“If you are blaring loud music from your club after midnight, shame on you. [And,] when an ordinance is in place (as our current noise ordinance IS), it should be enforced. By their own admission, NOPD stated they do not enforce the noise ordinance. Is being denied sleep or entertaining guests in one’s home because of loud noise any less a right than being robbed of your cell phone on a corner? I don’t think so. I would like to see designated, trained people, within the Department of Health, charged with the responsibility of enforcing the noise ordinance. Apparently when the DOH was charged with this years ago, the process worked much better.”

Put simply, she urged the Mayor’s office and NOPD to “enforce what is already on the books.” And, it would not take very much effort on the behalf of the police or government officials, as she outlined. “ [F]or instance, the simple change of forcing establishments to set their speakers 10 or 20 feet inside of any opening to the street and orient the speakers toward the interior of the club, and to prohibit speakers in courtyards, significantly decreased the noise level on Bourbon Street and affecting the surrounding residences.

“Additionally, enforcing the existing curfew on street musicians, 8:00, gives everybody the right to enjoy music on the streets up to a point, but to also enjoy the quietness of their homes and businesses (restaurants), after 8 p.m. Enforcement of the noise ordinance would enhance the Quality of Life in the French Quarter and help secure a sound, residential base, which is the core of the importance of the French Quarter’s allure to tourists and residents alike.”

Furness interjected that in no way would reasonable regulatory enforcement disrupt New Orleans’ historic cultural traditions. “Louis Armstrong and Kid Orey didn’t depend on megawatt amplifiers. Our traditions rest on music generated primarily by and for the residents, not that pumped out to attract alcohol-hyped visitors.”

Plus, people who abuse the noise ordinances are not above breaking other laws. And, they make it impossible for the law abiding music establishments, with good relations with the residents of the French Quarter, to stay in business. “After Katrina,” he recollected, “some local promoters (names hidden to protect the guilty, some of whom turned out to have unanswered criminal charges in other states) opened King Bolden’s on North Rampart. Ostensibly promoting local jazz, it really featured a DJ arriving about 11 p.m. and blowing out the doors (and courtyard, adjacent to residences) until about 5 a.m. No legal permits, no respect for neighbors, no respect for the city or the law — the owners ignored completely a court-mandated consent decree mandating respect for law and neighbors. It was finally shut down by state, not city, authorities which found 1,000 violations of licensing laws. Contrast this with Donna’s, on the corner of N. Rampart and St. Ann. It operated for years as a local music joint, respectful of its surroundings and the surrounding neighbors. Few, if any, complaints. Donna’s is now being converted into a restaurant..”

“It’s truly a question of respect of for each other,” Allen concluded. “And if people would read the research that shows that businesses USE cranked up sound to sell more alcohol and turn over the clientele, the would see how most of this is a huge manipulation. I would think the average person would be incensed to understand how s/he has been used. All for the almighty dollar.”

“The word, neighborhood, literally means “people living next to each other.” The socialization among people in a neighborhood does not include having a live entertainment venue pop up that suddenly disturbs the tranquil atmosphere where people chose to live. When people can’t enjoy the very homes they invested in, why would they stay? This is what is happening in the Marigny right now. Illegal live entertainment venues are driving residents out.”

This article originally published in the December 17, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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