In a debate that is initially pitting economic development interests against quality of life of some downtown residents, the Leesburg Town Council again finds itself in the unenviable position of determining whether changes to its noise ordinance are warranted.
The council held a public hearing Tuesday night on proposed Town Code changes that would extend the night-time period for amplified sound in town. As proposed, those hours could be extended to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings, beyond the current 8 p.m. limit. The night-time hours for the other days of the week would remain unchanged.
It’s not the first time the council has considered such changes. A 2014 debate on the matter brought impassioned pleas from both sides, but ultimately no changes were adopted by the council. The last time the Town Council changed its noise ordinance was a decade ago to comply with a Virginia Supreme Court ruling. The current ordinance from 2009 was modeled after the Town of Blacksburg’s noise rules, which included definitions for amplified equipment and placed the nightly cut-off time at 8 p.m.
There are two options before the council.
The first would retain the town’s sound amplifying equipment registration process and extend the noise period.
The second would remove the sound amplifying equipment registration process and permit amplified sound and other sound to be governed by the “plainly audible” standard. Staff members are recommending against using decibel levels to measure excessive sound, and instead proposing to employ the “plainly audible” standard for determining violations. That standard, a staff report notes, would also apply to televisions, radios, and musical instruments, all of which could be coming from a home rather than a business. Several localities employ a 100-foot-limit for limiting amplified sound’s reach, the report read, although Town Attorney Barbara Notar advised the council against taking that route.
A presentation to the council ahead of the public hearing noted that, from August 2018 to September 2019, the town Police Department received 506 calls for excessive noise, including complaints against eight downtown establishments. MacDowell Brew Kitchen received the most complaints in that group, at 12; however, the report notes, nine of those complaints came from the same caller. 14 Loudoun was next at nine complaints, with six from the same caller. The Leesburg Volunteer Fire Company’s Loudoun Street station was third, with seven complaints from six callers.
Thus far, it appears the renewed debate is largely squaring off downtown business owners who wish to extend the time for live music at their establishments against nearby residents, many of whom, they emphasized, were there before the resurgent downtown’s spike in restaurants and entertainment venues.
Downtown resident David Groy pointed to downtown’s recent prosperity and popularity.
“And we’ve done that without changing the noise ordinance,” he said. “I don’t think this discussion should be about economic development, but about quality of life.”
Alex Schoof, also a downtown resident, said he and his family enjoy patronizing the local establishments and listening to the music. However, they would prefer to leave that noise behind when they return home with their young child.
“I’m very much in support of downtown growing, but we have to balance that with the quality of life of people who actually live here,” he said. “I think, unfortunately, the proposed change to the ordinance as written doesn’t think makes good enough tradeoffs.”
Loudoun Brewing Company owner Phil Fust said, however, that an 8 p.m. cutoff for noise is just a little too early for area businesses on prime weekend nights. He also said that they have been good neighbors, and if a complaint comes forward, they have turned the music down.
Some downtown residents also spoke in favor of the change, with resident Peter Cunningham emphasizing that any action to extend the time could be reversed if problems arise.
“This is not something that’s permanent,” he said. The change “would encourage not just economic development, but creative folks to come here and not go elsewhere.”
Councilman Ron Campbell questioned why the council could not do a trial run or pilot program to extend the time on weekends to measure the impacts. Others suggested permitting the 10 p.m. weekend night music curfew in only certain areas of the town.
While a council majority did not appear to favor action one way or the other yet, all agreed that more time was needed to consider any potential change to the noise rules. A future work session will be scheduled.