Sylva citizenry sounds off about noise dispute
Conflict surrounding noise complaints at No Name Sports Pub — and the Sylva town ordinance that addresses how those complaints are handled — brought out a crowd of about 25 to the town board meeting last week.
The issue was absent from the agenda but quite present during the public comment, with eight people speaking to the issue and many more taking it all in from their seats. Some pled with town aldermen to do something about the noise they say is keeping their children awake at night, while others implored the board to change the ordinance to state more objectively what’s too loud and what isn’t.
“I think it’s important to remember that whatever decision the town board makes will affect the future of economic investment in our community,” said Jason Kimenker, former owner of Soul Infusion, a restaurant-pub that hosted a lot of live music under his management. “And I know there are several local businesses that are paying close attention to what the town board is doing and will do in the future as to whether they want to invest here.”
The town’s noise ordinance uses words such as “unreasonably” and “disturbingly” when describing unlawful sound levels. Though there is a section dealing specifically with musical equipment that says sound is too loud if audible from 20 feet past the property line between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., that section identifies music played outside or from a car, not music produced from inside a building, though it is being applied to this situation. No Name is asking for Sylva to amend its ordinance to set the limit at a particular, measureable decibel level.
“If we lined up 50 people, they would have 50 different interpretations,” Sylva resident Adam Bigalow said of the term “unreasonable.” “It’s arbitrary and can be used to attack different businesses.”
Curt Collins, a customer of No Name’s, took that idea of attack a step further.
“I believe that a noise ordinance that only runs from 11 to 7 attacks a certain segment of the community, and that is people who work second or third shift jobs,” said Collins, though adding that he’d be all for getting rid of the noise ordinance altogether.
Sound on Skyland Drive
But noise ordinances serve a purpose, said No Name neighbor Dwight McMahan, and the club needs to abide by this one.
“I can’t tell you on how many countless nights I’ve tried to put my son to sleep and him turn over and say, ‘I can’t go to sleep,’ said McMahan.
McMahan moved in shortly before No Name did, and he can attest to the difficulty of living alongside a bar. It’s not like it’s just one person calling the police all the time, McMahan said. He’s dialed that number before and knows a number of neighbors who have as well.
“It’s just really upsetting when you constantly hear ‘hooping and hollering’ after midnight, and it’s not just from the music,” he said. “It’s the people leaving the establishment.”
However, said Cindy Lewis, part-time No Name bartender and mixology and bartending instructor at Southwestern Community College, the bar hasn’t had a chance to pre-empt those concerns. She wishes the neighbors would call No Name before the police station.
“All the nights that I’ve worked, I’ve never had one person call me and say, ‘This is too loud,’” she said. “We’d turn it down.”
Drew Hooper isn’t so sure. Hooper lives across the road and uphill from the bar. He’s spearheaded a petition claiming that “there is no benefit to the community by having this bar here.”
“It wasn’t bad the first year, and then [owner Gregg] Fuller, he just figured out, ‘Well no one’s saying anything to me. I’ll get a little bit more and little bit more,’” Hooper said. “So then he ramped it back up and said, ‘I’m going to rawhide this place, I’m going to rawhide this neighborhood. And he has. It’s time to calm it down.’”
Benefit of a bar?
Hooper wasn’t in favor of a decibel-specific ordinance revision, saying that the sound spikes up and down and officers responding to a call would likely get there after the sound had died down for a bit. He’d like to see a continuous noise meter installed at No Name, recording all the spikes and dips in sound emanating from the business.
“I don’t understand why music has to be that loud,” said Carl Queen, who lives about 200 yards up Skyland Drive from No Name. “If it’s so loud it hurts you, what’s the point?”
But there’s an awful lot of points, said Alice Bauman, a local musician who said of No Name, “I like to think I got my start there.”
“We’re really lucky to have a really strong cultural community of musicians, some really good individuals that play music, and their bands have gotten their start here,” Bauman said. “It brings people into the community. And I don’t think that it’s fair to limit opportunities for young musicians.”
It’s also not fair, said Mary Harper, who books bands and manages the bar for No Name — and also happens to live across the street with her two teenage children — to come down so hard on No Name when the bar is “taking measures” to reduce the sound and is not the only property in the neighborhood to generate noise.
“Mr. Hooper shooting his guns and ‘hooping and hollering’ at night, I don’t call the police,” Harper said. “Mr. Queen with his really loud motor — I work third shift, so I’m asleep. I don’t call in when that machine drives me crazy.”
No plan to amend
Mayor Maurice Moody thanked everyone for their comments but informed the audience that the board would not take any action that evening, as the topic was not actually on the agenda. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that it will be in the future.
“At this point there is no plan to change the ordinance,” he said. “The board will discuss that, but at this particular time there is no plan.”
So it might be up to the neighbors to work it out, but that could prove challenging.
“It’s going to be hard to repair this situation,” said Commissioner Danny Allen. “I hope that we can, but the way that the feelings are among the neighborhood and the business owners — comments were made on each side — it’s going to be hard.”
ABC to rule on noise violations
The unpaid noise citations at No Name Sports Pub have landed on the desk of the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission’s legal division following an investigation by N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement.
It could take a few months for that report to wind up on the top of an attorney’s stack of paperwork — the ABC Commission’s two attorneys are currently working on 500 violations between them, the commission’s chief counsel Renee Cowick said — but the violations could result in consequences ranging from a written warning to revocation of No Name’s liquor license.
In all likelihood, the resolution will fall on the milder side of that spectrum.
“It probably won’t be much,” Cowick said.
According to the report filed with the ABC Commission, Assistant Sylva Police Chief Tammy Hooper told Special Agent S.D. Myers of Alcohol Law Enforcement on Dec. 29, 2014, that No Name had been issued five noise citations since that May, all still unpaid. Myers later spoke to Gregg Fuller, who owns No Name. Fuller said he planned to bring the citations up at Sylva’s Jan. 15 meeting, and he expected them to be dismissed.
But that did not happen, and Myers spoke with several people at the meeting — all of whom wished to remain anonymous, according to the report — who said No Name was “becoming a detriment” to their community.
The day after the meeting, Myers submitted the report.
The best-case scenario would be for the neighbors to work the issue out on their own, said Stacy Cox, special agent in charge for Alcohol Law Enforcement.
“Both parties have a valid complaint, and they need to come to middle ground,” she said.
Fuller, meanwhile, is still considering going the legal route. He has retained Jim Moore, former assistant district attorney for the western counties, as his lawyer, he said, and doesn’t plan to comment on the issue anymore for a while.
“I’d like to talk to you, but my counsel’s told me to shut up, so that’s what I’m doing,” he said. “I think things are going well, but I can’t talk any further about it.”