Shh!!! It's working

OLYMPIA - More than a year after the Olympia City Council passed an ordinance limiting decibel levels downtown, residents aren't making a lot of noise about it.

The city reports just a handful of complaints under the new ordinance, and even a skeptical bar owner wasn’t overly critical of it.

“I’m still not for the noise ordinance, but it hasn’t really affected me very much,” said Josh Brown, who owns the Royal Lounge at 311 Capitol Way N.

The Olympia City Council voted 6-1 in August 2008 to amend its noise ordinance, which previously didn’t set specific limits for noise that originates at businesses but affects residents.

Sound levels are limited to 60 decibels at a residence’s property line between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. other days. The level is set at 65 decibels during other hours.

The ordinance will expire at the end of this month unless the council takes action to renew it. Councilman Jeff Kingsbury, who pushed for the ordinance last year, said the council likely will make it permanent.

Supporters of the law, including some downtown residents, had said it would create an objective standard for evaluating noise complaints and benefit downtown residents, current and future.

“It’s a progressive measure in anticipation of downtown housing,” Kingsbury said. “That’s why we did it.”

Ruthie Snyder, a downtown code-enforcement officer, said the measure has been a success. The only serous complaint was once last spring at the Royal Lounge at 311 Capitol Way N.

But the owner, Brown, added noise proofing that solved the problem.

“I think it’s a great thing for a town to have,” Snyder said. “It’s pretty quantifiable and reasonable.”

Kingsbury said he’s pleased about the effect the measure has had.

“The ordinance is functioning precisely in the manner that I thought it would function,” he said.

Last year’s opponents of the ordinance – including bar owners and musicians – said the law would force some bars to close and hurt the city’s music scene. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

Kingsbury said he gave his cell phone number to people skeptical about the ordinance and asked them to call if they had problems.

“I’ve never, ever had a single phone call,” he said.

Snyder said the city received complaints from people at the Phoenix Inn and the nearby Boardwalk Apartments about the Royal, a dance club in an old warehouse.

“First of all, we made them keep the garage door closed,” Snyder said. And Brown, the Royal’s owner, installed quarter-inch Plexiglas over the single-pane windows on the outside of the club. He pegged the cost of the modifications at $2,000.

“I haven’t seen a lot of impact” from the noise ordinance, Brown said. “Basically, it gave the city a tool to say, ‘This is too much.’”

He added that although “no bar owner is for the noise ordinance,” he hasn’t sensed that the music scene has suffered.

The only other noise complaint Snyder received was about an event held at a reception area at the Fish Brewing Co. in the 500 block of Jefferson Street Southeast. That’s in contrast to last summer, when the city received multiple complaints. An Olympian reporter independently measured noise at apartments near local establishments and found that several were out of compliance with the proposed noise ordinance.

“The intent of the council was to work with the businesses – not penalize them – and that’s certainly the way it’s gone,” Snyder said.

David Scherer Water, the president of the Olympia Downtown Neighborhood Association, said the ordinance has caused a cultural shift toward a quieter downtown.

His group is moving its focus to banning noisy leaf blowers from downtown, he said.

“I think it’s been really positive,” he said of the ordinance. “Nothing but good things to say about it.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869