Open Letter Regarding Proposed Noise Ordinance

Dear Councilors, 

I would like to thank Ben Woody and his team for all their hard work, but I ask the City of Asheville to please reconsider the newly proposed noise ordinance.

The music industry infographic provided in the noise ordinance references shows that “employment growth in the music industry outperformed expectations and grew 4x faster than expected 2010-2016.” In 2020, Asheville was ranked #5 on the list of America’s top 100 small cities and was described as “an arts and music city”. And, at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce’s annual growth breakfast in November 2020, it was revealed that the performing arts industry has emerged as a high-performance industry cluster for the Asheville Metro Statistical Area. This all goes to show that Asheville is fast becoming a music destination with real performance impacts on our local economy. 

Other cities who have a reputation similar to Asheville’s for being “music cities” seem to have less restrictive policies: Wilmington, NC allows a louder nighttime dbA limit than our proposed draft, Charlotte has an 85 dbA limit which extends until 11 pm on weekends, Nashville has an 85 dbA limit all days of the week, and Austin allows amplified outdoor music until 2 am.  Additionally, in cities like Austin and Charlotte, there is a process for rightfully zoned and permitted outdoor performance centers and event arenas with demonstrated community benefit to apply for special permits. This gives them an opportunity to customize a plan with City event staff in exchange for meeting various good neighbor efforts and requirements, such as allowing for a greater number of events, later curfews, and different decibel parameters. The City of Raleigh has also recently introduced new Hospitality Districts for areas that contain a concentration of establishments offering entertainment that are located in close proximity to residential dwellings, which allows for more flexibility. I would like to see Asheville adopt similar policies to protect businesses with live entertainment and performing arts venues, especially in the Central Business District.

Some of the new restrictions, such as limiting sound exceedance permits to eight per year require further explanation. Eight is very low. The penalties in this proposed plan are also much stricter than the previous ordinance, with fees increasing 40-50%. The compliance requirements and appeals process are also vague. Given the severity of the penalties, there should be no doubt what the expectations are and what rights individuals and businesses have to contest violations before penalties are incurred. This is so drastically different that there should also be an adoption period, where warnings are issued for a first offense as everyone adapts to the new policies. 

What is most concerning about this proposal is the timing. The chamber’s presentation from November shows that independent artists and performing arts businesses are one of the top industries suffering higher negative effects from COVID. Asheville lost two music venues this year (Ambrose West and The Mothlight), and the Asheville Area Arts Council’s impact survey shows $18.7 million in lost revenue from the 100+ local arts organizations that completed it. This is a time when we should be coming together to support the residents and organizations that are hurting the most, and instead, this ordinance would cause more harm. 

Again, I urge you to please reconsider the content and timing of this proposal. 

Sincerely,

Katie Cornell
Executive Director
Asheville Area Arts Council

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