Laws Against Sound

All is quiet in the rural community of Newstead, but this past summer, the rural, Western New York community served as a battleground in what has become a war on noise.

The fight against noise pollution has been all the rage in 2014. In January, the USA Today published a story stating noise as the leading quality of life complaint in, of all places, New York City.  The fight has even hit Bourbon Street, where New Orleans’ city council is addressing whether or not to strengthen its own noise ordinances.

Located 25 miles northeast of Buffalo, Newstead boasts a population of approximately 8,500 people. Some of which reside in the trailer park community of Quarry Hill Estates, who last November spoke to the town board to complain of noise levels coming from a neighboring venue. The then-proposed law was subsequently nicknamed “Braun’s Law” named after Braun’s Concert Cove.

Braun’s Bar & Grill boasts an “outdoor” venue that includes a spacious canopy built in part to limit noise from disturbing neighboring property owners. (Photo Credit: Braun’s Bar & Grill/Facebook)

 

Braun’s Concert Cove was established in 2012 to compliment the bar and grill owned by Ray Braun. The footprint of the property is located on Main Street, approximately 2600 feet from Quarry Hill Estates. It has two predominate structures; one of which is the bar and grill, the other is the “cove” that resembles something similar to an airplane hangar.  One local music reviewer described how the structure dwarfed a mid-week concert audience of 500 people.

From this stage, several hard rock acts have played to crowds numbering in the thousands. Ted Nugent, Yngwie Malmsteen, Pop Evil, Sebastian Bach, Jackyl – have all recently performed. On September 6, Winger played Braun’s last concert. It was a contract already negotiated before Braun’s Law passed.

Braun’s Law had nearly passed back in April, but one abstention from council member, Marybeth Whiting prevented a majority vote. At the time, Whiting said she wanted to research the subject further. In July, when the Town Board advertised it would bring the subject back for  a vote, an online firestorm erupted.  This time, all the weight was placed on Whiting’s vote.  With just a few days before the board meeting, Braun quickly took to Facebook, posting Whiting’s picture and phone numbers at the town office, including her personal cell phone number and email address.

HERE SHE IS!!!,” read the post on the Brauns Bar & Grill Facebook page, “the council woman who is voting YES to the ‘Brauns law’ as they call it, to put us out of concert business. … Email her, call her, call her office. LET HER KNOW!!! ASK HER WHY?”

Before passing into law, Whiting addressed the attention she received from her opposition. She cited the names of neighboring communities with noise laws – Clarence, Lancaster and Townawanda. She also named cities outside of New York, with continued reputations for hosting live music, despite the presence of noise laws – Red Rocks, New Orleans and Austin.

“This isn’t rocket science,” said Whiting, from her seat on the board. “The town of Newstead isn’t any different from any of these communities. Whether it’s loud noise or residents in place – more often than not there is a noise ordinance in place. It is an effort for everyone to coexist, not to close any one business down.”

“It would be wrong to conclude that my vote counts any more than anyone else’s on this board. However, Mr. Braun has chosen to single me out in very vile, demeaning and derogatory ways.  In doing so, Mr. Braun has shown this entire community the type of person he really is. Life is full of choices. I could have chosen to respond in kind, but I did not.”

The thread of comments referenced in this article was promptly deleted from the Braun’s Concert Cove Facebook page within the days following the town board meeting.

“I attended the town board meeting that was held awhile back on this matter,” said Newstead resident Deborah Loke, who brought along a decibel meter.  The amplified voices within the Town Hall on that evening peaked at 99.1 decibels, she said.

“At the time I brought up the Basket Factory Restaurant in Middleport that was shut down by their town board. The business was very renown, but due to the short-sightedness of their town passing an extremely low noise ordinance, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and it was shut down a short time later.”

Here in Upstate New York, we’ve covered news regarding Frost Ridge Campgrounds in Le Roy, where town officials are combating against campground owners hosting outdoor concerts. In the college town of Amherst, lawmakers recently disallowed the use of loud speakers from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., affecting fast food drive-thrus. And, in July, the Town of Newstead included a noise ordinance into its own law books – outlawing noises louder than 80 decibels after 9 p.m., and 65 decibels after 11 p.m.

In favorable atmospheric conditions, a sound registering at 110-decibels can be heard from a distance of 12 miles away. The sound of an electric shaver registers at approximately 80 decibels.

“She probably is a good lady,” stated Braun, of Whiting. “But making a bad decision that we need more answers to is what I want. I did not build this massive place on approval of town to have six regulars come in for a beer and sandwich in the afternoon. How will that pay for this place? No tax credits here. No funding here either. … No one knows the behind the scenes we have done to make this happen, nor will many care, but I’m not going down without answers or a fight.

Someone needs to pay me my money back if this is how it can [come to be] and can be pushed out of a town that approved it.”

The comparison the town board attempted to draw between Newstead and Austin was to argue how communities, large and small, face similar challenges, establish noise ordinances, and still support live music.

But, the Texas city goes beyond establishing decibel thresholds.

“Austin’s approach to sound is more than enforcement,” said Don Pitts, Manager of the Music & Entertainment Division of The City of Austin’s Economic Development Department. “What we’ve learned over the past five years is that you can’t solely depend on enforcement.

The Music Office conducts an investigation for each amplified sound application and we prepare a report recommending approval or denial of the application and any appropriate conditions and restrictions. We base our report on the following criteria below. We also use cut off times and days of weeks among other things to mitigate the impact to nearby residents.”

The entertainment division first assesses whether or not a venue is suitable for providing outdoor music. The office considers several factors, including local topography and proximity to residential and commercial property.

The governing body that administers over a city of nearly 900,000 people is apparently conscious of how surround buildings can serve as a buffer as well, as they also look into building design, the construction of the stage and orientation of speakers. As the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin has a stake in nurturing the local music scene. Pitts explained that a joint effort between his office and local venue owners created a program to assist business owners prepare an acceptable environment for all to enjoy.

“The Music Venue Assistance Program (MVAP) is an innovative program based on the Music Division’s music venue case study work with Cedar Street Courtyard and Black Heart Bar, and launched in 2013 with Council support,” said Pitts. “MVAP assists qualified venues to acquire sound mitigation technologies through a low-interest loan program, and also provides them with best practices expertise for deploying those technologies with maximum efficacy.

This program has already proved to be a win-win solution for neighborhoods and venues alike, creating high-quality listening experiences for music patrons, while simultaneously providing significant reduction of sound bleed in residential areas.”

Drawing comparisons between Newstead and Austin leaves much for speculation. Both sides of the argument state that Braun’s Concert Cove was cooperating with the suggestions from the town board, which one could compare to Austin’s MVAP program.  However, it remains to uncertain as to whether or not Braun’s would even pass Austin’s initial review process due to how closely it stands to an existing residential area.  Nonetheless, it is clear Newstead did not follow Austin’s lead, despite its own comparisons.

As the changing of leaves usher summer away in New York’s Upstate, the fallout from Braun’s Law continues into the winter months. Councilmember Whiting resigned from her post on August 5. Her letter to her compatriots stated she no longer wanted to be a politician.

Braun immediately invoked words of litigation before the board placed the law into effect. However, as of the drafting of this article, he has not filed a lawsuit.