City survey about events on private property

On February 21, 2018, the City Council will take up measures recommended by City staff to minimize offsite impacts of events on private property, such as noise and parking. In order to obtain feedback prior to the meeting from businesses and residents, the City has posted a survey (click here) on its web site; responses will be collected through Friday night, Feb. 9, 2018.

BNC has prepared a two-page background piece about the issues addressed in the survey to help citizens better understand the issues and respond to the survey (click here to read the document). Here’s a summary:

  • Noise Variances: BNC requested that variances be limited or denied within 250 feet of homes, because some events can be too close to homes to be compatible. Sound, of course, falls off with distance, so some space is needed for sound levels to drop. While the 2015 administrative policy allows for considering proximity to residences, this has not been applied consistently. It should be. The staff recommends no changes.
  • Temporary Change of Occupancy Permits: BNC supports the staff-recommended limit of three TCOs per location per year. If the Council prefers more flexibility for multi-business locations, we suggest two per business and five per property, with a requirement that the applicant be a legal occupant of the premises. Nearly all of the ten or so properties that request TCOs in a year do so for only one indoor event, but one location received over 20 for outdoor events in the past two years. This permit is intended to be temporary, not a way of creating an event center by skirting land use codes and proper City and public review.
  • Parking Plans:  BNC supports the recommendation that a business intending to use its parking lot for an event be required to submit a parking plan to the City in conjunction with its review of applications for temporary alcohol (OLCC) licenses. The plan would have to meet federal ADA/accessibility standards. Since not all events involve an OLCC license, a plan should also be required for those with more than a certain number of attendees.

We believe that the long-term solution to managing events is to have more official event venues, regulated by a City event center code, and located far enough from residences so that sound levels and parking aren’t a problem.

Noise is getting attention

Recent articles in the Source Weekly and the Bend Bulletin, along with a report on KTVZ highlighted controversies over the City’s noise ordinance and unregulated event centers. Please click on the links to review the coverage if you haven’t seen it.

The media attention was prompted by an online petition by a concert promoter who claimed that efforts to correct flaws in the noise ordinance were aimed at killing live, outdoor music in Bend.

BNC has always said that updating city code isn’t about music — it’s about noise. Many cities have both vibrant music scenes and quiet neighborhoods. The fact that Bend doesn’t have both doesn’t mean that it can’t.

Among the cities with lower decibel limits for residential zones are:  Oregon cities, including Portland, Salem, Corvallis, Gresham, and Hillsboro; tourist towns like Nashville (“music city”), Boulder, Santa Fe, and Aspen; and major urban areas, including Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami.

BNC noise strategy

The Neighborhood Coalition has released an updated summary of the issues with Bend’s noise policies and practices. (To read the full statement, click here.)

The BNC steering committee discussed its suggested approach to dealing with noise in a meeting with City Councilor Bill Moseley. He was recently successful in getting a majority of councilors to agree to hold a work session to address how the current noise ordinance is implemented. The focus will be on “living within limits” — that is, limiting noise variances and temporary occupancy permits that have enabled event organizers to hold large concerts and competitions adjacent to residential areas.

BNC supports this short-term effort to direct the city manager to implement current policies in a more restrained and balanced manner. We have listed eight areas in which permissive interpretations, poor enforcement, and a lack of discretion in issuing variances have caused continuing conflicts.

Next year, we want to see the Council adopt minor changes to the noise ordinance that bring it into line with practices in other cities. This includes reducing decibel limits and setting a limit for mixed use zones.

In 2019, the Council should consider new policies that strengthen city code by moving from a complaint-driven approach to noise to a prevention-oriented one (like the Austin model) and by addressing the need for regulation of outdoor event centers.

Outdoor music venues and event centers

The Neighborhood Coalition generally doesn’t weigh in on individual noise variance applications, but tries to focus on underlying policy issues that affect livability in Bend.

However, we were asked by the board chair of the Tower Theatre Foundation and several board members of River West Neighborhood Association to add our perspective on the issues at stake in allowing major concerts on Mirror Pond Plaza.

In comments to the city manager, BNC objected to an application for a noise variance by Crow’s Feet Commons for July 16, 2017. An event in June was picked up by mics in the Tower, causing substantial interference with the musical being staged in the theatre.

Mirror Pond Plaza isn’t the only site where promoters have taken advantage of gaps in city policies and permissive interpretations by city staff to use temporary permits and variances to stage major paid concerts and similar events with large audiences on properties where such uses were never reviewed.

BNC believes the City Council needs to adopt policies that address the proliferation of outdoor music venues and “pop up” event centers.

To read the comments submitted to the city, click here. To see an article on this topic in the recent BNC newsletter, please click here.

Amending the noise ordinance

In a position statement on amending the noise ordinance in Bend, BNC calls for reducing decibel levels in residential zones to match those in Portland, Salem, and Corvallis. Current standards in the Bend code allow volume levels during daytime hours that sound twice as loud.

The statement also proposes that decibel limits be set for mixed use zones. There is no standard at this time, and City staff has previously written to event organizers telling them they could use the highest limits in the code (for industrial zones) in these areas. More mixed use zones are anticipated going forward, allowing both commercial and residential uses.

In addition to changes to the code, BNC proposes shifting responsibility for monitoring violations from residents to a City sound technician. This staff or contract person would work proactively to ensure that venues are in compliance and have the authority to cite violators, relieving police officers of most noise enforcement duties.

Two other proposals were made for future action: 1) Creating an outdoor music venue permit modeled on one in Austin, TX (“the live music capital of the world”); and 2) Planning for one or more entertainment districts away from residential areas, where the rules can be more relaxed.

To read the entire position statement, click here.

Speak Up (over the noise) campaign

BNC Speak Up sign

Until Bend’s enforcement protocol and noise ordinance are improved, residents should consider complying with the City’s process by calling the police non-emergency number (541-693-6911) and filing a complaint when noise is too loud.

Ask that an officer with a decibel meter come to your home and insist that the source of the noise be noted. Document the meter reading and send an email to City Hall with a Code Enforcement Complaint Form. For the form and e-mail address, click here.

To download an 8.5″ x 11″ version of the “Speak Up” sign that you can print and display in a window, click here.

BNC recommendations on noise

Members of BNC’s policy research work group recently made specific suggestions to the city for changes to the noise ordinance and its enforcement, as well as additions to the criteria used to evaluate applications for noise permits. The recommendations were reviewed in a meeting with staff working on livability issues as a follow up to a discussion with the city manager.

Other cities with vibrant live music scenes have policies that strike a better balance between outdoor amplified music and livability in nearby residential areas. We suggested that Bend follow the model of either Charlottesville, VA or Austin, TX. The former sets lower decibel limits than used in Bend, while the latter measures sound levels at the property line of the source of the music, rather than at the property of a “noise sensitive” person. Austin also requires an annual permit for all outdoor music venues and a sound impact evaluation by trained technicians.

To improve enforcement, we suggested shifting responsibility from the police (for whom noise complaints are and should be a low priority) to a sound technician authorized to enforce the code. Many other cities use this approach.

We also suggested that the criteria for approving or denying variance requests include the commonly-used standards of proximity, frequency, and duration. Most cities prohibit exceeding the limits in the noise ordinance within a certain distance of residential areas. They also restrict how long and how often events can impact a particular neighborhood.

To read or download BNC’s noise recommendations, click here.

White paper on Bend’s noise ordinance

BNC’s policy research work group completed its first white paper, which is on the city’s noise ordinance. We have met with the city manager to discuss these issues and will plan to follow-up with staff and city councilors to determine next steps.

Major Findings:

  1. Bend’s Noise Ordinance sets limits on noise that are substantially higher than those in Salem, Corvallis, and Portland Oregon, as well as Austin, Texas and Charlottesville, Virginia, two cities with universities and vibrant music scenes.
  2. Bend routinely issues permits that allow event organizers and establishments to exceed the noise limits, not only for special events like October Fest or Munch & Music, but for outdoor patios of restaurants or bars that abut residential neighborhoods – greatly impacting residents. Other cities are more selective.
  3. Certain Bend zoning issues increase the likelihood of generating conflict over noise.

Major Recommendations:

  1. That the City Council create a committee to review the Noise Ordinance, including noise limits, and bring those limits in line with other cities.
  2. That this committee also review the newly issued criteria used to approve or deny permits to exceed noise limits. Approving these permits should be the exception, not the rule.
  3. Bend needs to draft an enforcement protocol so that the city, police, and residents know how to proceed to initiate, respond to, and follow up on complaints.
  4. Bend should use zoning to encourage entertainment venues, especially outdoor venues that use amplified music, to locate where they are less likely to negatively impact residential neighborhoods.

To read or download the white paper, click here.