The resurgence of downtown and the growth of many nighttime businesses may give new life to an old debate.
The Leesburg Town Council this week debated whether to initiate changes to its noise ordinance, which could fan the flames on a debate waged in 2014 and brought impassioned pleas from residents and business owners alike on how the town should regulate amplified sound during the evening hours.
While it certainly raised emotions, the debate did not result in any change to the ordinance, to the dismay of some restaurant and night-time business owners who play host to live music acts. Now, the downtown finds itself with a new identity and the Town Council dais with several new faces that could tip the scales in favor of change.
One of those new faces, Councilman Josh Thiel, was the one to bring forward the item for reconsideration before the elected body Monday night.
“We’ve changed drastically as a town in those few years,” since the last debate, he said. “Our job is to create an environment so businesses can be successful. I think this would at least start the discussion.”
Thiel pointed to other jurisdictions, which allow later hours for outdoor amplified sound, including Manassas, Herndon, and even Loudoun County. While the town presses the mute button on businesses beginning at 8 p.m., in other areas that curfew doesn’t begin until 9 p.m. or later. Thiel suggested considering the downtown area in a separate category from other areas of the town.
Town Attorney Barbara Notar said the last time the town’s noise ordinance was changed was a decade ago, to comply with a Virginia Supreme Court ruling. The ordinance adopted by the council then was modeled after the Town of Blacksburg’s noise ordinance, which included definitions for amplified equipment and placed the nightly cut-off time at 8 p.m. When the debate was renewed in 2014, the council considered whether to regulate noise based on decibel levels, but ended up not changing its adopted regulations from 2009.
While council members present during Monday night’s work session seemed inclined to at least further scrutinize the matter, some waved the caution flag and said impacts to residents must be considered.
“This isn’t a slam dunk answer,” Councilman Tom Dunn said. “We have to take into account these long-term residents [in the downtown who] were here before the bars and restaurants.”
“We have to balance being business friendly with being family friendly,” Mayor Kelly Burk said. “Some of these houses are right on top of these businesses that have changed. I have no problem beginning this process but by no means am I ready to vote on anything. I want to hear from the community at large.”
The council on Tuesday night was expected to initiate changes to the Town Code to begin the discussion on any noise ordinance changes. The matter will come back to the Town Council for a public hearing and potential action.