LACONIA — "We're not done with this (discussion) — not anywhere near," said Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) during a lengthy public debate of changes to the ordinances restricting noise and licensing outdoor loudspeakers at the City Council meeting this week.
Although the proposed changes to the ordinances would apply throughout the city, the discussion pitted those speaking for entertainment venues against residents and innkeepers at the Weirs.
"I sell sleep," Fred Clausen of Proctor Cottages, said flatly, repeating a refrain heard for the past several years.
"It's a tourist area," countered John Ganong, owner of Nothin' Fancy restaurant. "They need their sleep, but they also need their fun."
The proposal, presented to the council by its Government Operations and Ordinances Committee, which Doyle chairs, proposed two changes to the noise ordinance when it met a month ago. The initiatives were put forward for a "first reading" vote on Sept. 28 but councilors instead decided to invite the public in for the informal discussion that was held on Monday night. Officially, the matter remains "on the table".
The first proposal, which would apply to residential and commercial properties throughout the city, would specify that a noise "plainly audible," in the judgment of the police, within 50 feet of the property line of the property where it originates, particularly between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday would represent a violation. The second change would apply to persons "yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling or singing in the street, particularly between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., which would also constitute a violation.
The committee also proposed extending the hours for the operation of outdoor sound equipment. Currently, outdoor loudspeakers cannot be operated later than 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The committee recommended extending the hours to 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., respectively, and allowing loudspeakers to operate until 11 p.m. on the weekday night before federal holidays.
Finally, the committee will also recommend stiffening the penalties of repeated violations of the noise ordinance, by fining violators $100 for the first offense. $250 for the second offense and $500 for all subsequent offenses. The ordinance currently provides for a fine of not more than $250 for all offenses.
Don Richards of Timber Lane, a long time member of the Planning Board, conceded "it's a tough proposition". He said that he accepted the 50 foot rule for indoor music venues, but was troubled by extending the hours for outdoor loudspeakers. "The existing regulations are sufficient," he said, with a provision to request extended hours on a limited number of special occasions.
"I'm afraid of what will happen if you open this Pandora's Box," warned Ernie Bolduc, who reminded the council that bars can remain open until 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. He said that he owned property at Hampton Beach, where his tenants constantly complain about the noise coming from nearby bars — and their patrons. "I've had tenants ask for their money back," he said. "These people drink and when one bar closes go to the next," he continued. "They are loud and obnoxious." He said that quiet between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. "has been a magic number for years and it works."
That prompted Bob Wolf of Faro's Italian Grille to say that "if The Weirs turned into Hampton Beach, it would be a blessing." He said that business slows at Faro's when the music stops. "Midnight is best," he remarked, "and anything earlier than 11 p.m. is ridiculous." Then with a nod to Clausen, he added "we sell fun".
Cynthia Makris of the Naswa Resort said that the ordinance proposal represented "a bad message for tourism by telling visitors they can only have so much fun, then they have to be quiet." She questioned the 50 foot rule, explaining that sound travels over water. "It's getting very divisive," Makris cautioned, explaining that "we are all residents of the city, but The Weirs is being broken apart between residents and businesses."
"It's an impossible task," said Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), who suggested rather than apply one ordinance to the entire city, regulations could be tailored to designated areas, where, for example, the hours for outdoor loudspeakers could be extended.
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