For the first time in more than a decade, the Leesburg Town Council has chosen to make changes to its noise regulations.
By a 4-3 vote Tuesday night, the council approved a series of Town Code changes governing noise regulations in town. Among the most prominent of changes is extending the time for amplified outdoor music to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings, two hours later than the previously permitted cut-off time of 8 p.m.
The 8 p.m. curfew still applies to Sunday through Thursday evenings. Amplified outdoor music may begin no earlier than 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 10:30 a.m. the other days of the week. The council chose not to extend the “plainly audible” noise measurement standard beyond its current limit of 50 feet from the property line. That means noise is deemed excessive if it can be heard unaided beyond that distance. A 100-foot limit had been contemplated.
The council maintained its current permit process for businesses that want to provide amplified outdoor music. Under the adopted regulations, a business must apply for a permit at least 48 hours ahead of the use, and the permit would be valid for 12 months from the date of issuance.
How to penalize violators of the regulations had taken up the lion’s share of debate in recent meetings, and council members ultimately settled on a six-month cancellation of the permit following two written summons issued by the Leesburg Police Department. A business does have the ability to appeal such a decision.
Mayor Kelly Burk sought support for a permit cancellation following a single violation, but did not receive support. The council had also considered allowing up to three violations during a 12-month period.
Allowances will also be made for special events to use outdoor amplified sound at other times of the day with the approval of the town manager.
The final noise ordinance vote saw the dissent by Burk and council members Tom Dunn and Suzanne Fox.
The vote will undoubtedly be a victory for many businesses, particularly the downtown’s restaurant and nightlife scene, which in large numbers had complained that the 8 p.m. weekend cut-off was outdated. Many downtown residents, however, had argued that extending noise allowance could negatively impact their quality of life.
As evidenced by the vote, the council also was split.
Councilman Neil Steinberg noted that the issue had been debated at the council ad nauseum in recent years. Even before its most recent airing beginning this past fall, the council had twice debated the noise regulations over the years since it was last changed in 2009, but in neither instance made changes.
“We’ve been discussing this a long time,” Steinberg said. “It’s a compromise at best. We know we’re not going to make everybody happy.”
Dunn, however, said the revised regulations would not have the impact some council members thought.
“If there isn’t strict enforcement, then we’re going to have the same situation where citizens are looking for complaints to cause a change. I think we’re going to have unhappy residents, unhappy businesses, and if the police get dragged into it, unhappy officers. In the end, we’re going to end up with exactly the same thing,” he said.
The new regulations go into effect immediately, but, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the closure of all restaurant dining rooms and bars, it will likely be weeks or months before their impacts are tested.