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Late-night bands could be silenced by tougher Sylva noise ordinance

When it comes to noise, Commissioner Harold Hensley of the Sylva town board is clearly prepared to make a bit of it himself if necessary to get others to turn the volume down.

“The complaint I’ve got is when you can hear music in your house with your door shut,” Hensley told a restaurant owner during a discussion of the proposed ordinance at a town meeting last week. “I don’t need to hear it in my living room.”

Tori Walters, a co-owner of The Soul Infusion Tea House and Bistro, was one of several who shared concerns over the ordinance at a public hearing last week.

“We’d like to have the opportunity to have a little fun in town,” Walters said.

Under the new ordinance, noise heard more than 20 feet from its source between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. is too loud.

Hensley has led a push recently to tighten the town’s ordinance. Walters pointed out that Hensley didn’t exactly live in a rural section of Sylva, however.

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“I do want you to know I lived out of town,” the commissioner responded. “Town came to me.”

Hensley suggested Walters consider a “sound shell” to help contain the music at the restaurant, which has a small outdoor stage.

“Your entertainment cannot disturb the neighborhood,” he said.

The town’s current noise ordinance relies on the key words “reasonably prudent,” as in what an average person would consider to be excessively loud between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The new language sets a distance requirement: “The playing of any musical instrument or electronic sound amplification equipment outdoors or from a motor vehicle, between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., that can be heard from an adjoining property or at distance of greater than 20 feet from the sound source.”

Other towns, such as Highlands most recently, have opted to rely less on subjectivity and instead have set decibel levels that can’t be exceeded.

Walters told commissioners she did not actually have any problems or objections to the tougher ordinance. What she did want, however, was for the town to be aware of the need for business owners to bring in live entertainment to help attract customers, and not to become increasingly restrictive.

Walters said during a grand-opening celebration a few months ago, the restaurant had a rock-and-roll band perform. It was a successful draw, but “they wanted to squeal their wheels a bit,” she said of band members, and perhaps were noisier than they should have been. Walters said she is attentive to the noise levels and has asked groups to turn it down, and that the rock-and-roll group was the exception, not the rule.

“A lot of businesses are pretty loud around there, I’m not the only one,” she told Hensley, pointing out that UPS, which is next to the Soul Infusion, is even louder when workers there are using pneumatic tools to fix equipment.

Mayor Maurice Moody assured Walters and the crowd of 20 or so gathered for the hearing that the noise ordinance “is not directed solely toward Soul Infusion.”

And Commissioner Danny Allen added that he recently received complaints from a town resident about music from another restaurant: “You are not the only one,” Allen told Walters.

Amanda Dugan, a Western Carolina University student, also cautioned commissioners not to be excessive in applying noise-ordinance restrictions. They risked squelching the local economy if they do that, she said.

“If they are not going to be having music, I’m going to Asheville,” Dugan said. “It is really important to have somewhere in town we can go and spend our money locally.”

Curt Collins also asked commissioners not to become overzealous in regulating noise.

“It seems like there’s been a lot of clampdown lately,” Collins, a farmer with Avant Garden in Cullowhee, said.

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