ROCKPORT — Owners of Bearskin Neck businesses are split on a sound ordinance proposed at this year's Town Meeting.
Article I on the meeting's warrant, an addition to the town's bylaws, aims to curb the amount of noise in the downtown business district.
Krystle Leveille, the co-owner and operator of Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge at 64 Bearskin Neck, collected enough signatures to have the article placed on the spring Town Meeting warrant by petition. It was drafted with the help of attorney Brian Cassidy, who once served as Rockport town counsel. The article will need a simple majority to pass at Town Meeting on Saturday, April 27, at noon, at Rockport High School gymnasium, 24 Jerden's Lane.
This extension to Chapter 13 of the Rockport General Bylaws, as outlined in Article I, would implement a curfew for outdoor entertainment — 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9:30 p.m. on weekends. Exemptions could be granted by selectmen "on certain holidays," as stated in the article. Also, establishments that hold entertainment licenses would be required to keep outdoor noise at such a level that when it crosses property lines it measures below 60 decibels, about the same volume as a normal conversation or equal to the noise level in a quiet office.
"Above certain levels, noise is detrimental to the health and welfare of the citizenry," Article I reads, "and in the public interest, shall be systematically prescribed."
As it stands, Rockport doesn't have much in terms of sound ordinances. The only rules against excessive outdoor noise are in relation to car horns and car stereos.
Leveille argues what she's proposing isn't outside what is implemented in Gloucester and other coastal cities.
"Rockport's downtown is a really unique situation," she said. "It's a mix of residential and commercial spaces and they're all zoned incredibly close. As Rockport grows, the laws need to grow with it."
Although this bylaw would help Leveille's business as "someone who sells sleep," she said it would also benefit downtown AirBnB rentals, as well as restaurants and art galleries.
"We have a reputation as being a quaint, charming, seaside town," Leveille said. "We need to protect the nature of Rockport."
According to the article, the proposed bylaw would be enforced by the town administrator. This could mean having an entertainment license revoked or altered. Leveille said punishment is not her goal and that it should only be used as a last result.
"Right now, if you can complain that someone is being too loud, the person could just say, 'Well, I disagree,'" she explained. This bylaw would offer something tangible so both parties can "work together and find a middle ground."
'It's a business district'
Kathy Milbury, co-owner of My Place by the Sea Restaurant, located two doors down from Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge at the harbor end of the neck, thinks this ordinance is "fatally flawed."
During the summer months, the restaurant hosts a weekly Hump Day, an event on Wednesday nights with a DJ and dancing on its back porch. On March 5, selectmen voted unanimously to issue My Place an entertainment license, which allows Hump Day to be held until 10 p.m.
"In the summer, 10 p.m. is still a very, very early cutoff for the town," Milbury said. "It typically doesn't get dark until 9:45 p.m. Our perspective is that (ending the event at) 10 p.m. gives people enough time to come home from work, take a shower, and get something to eat before going out."
Millbury said when the event first started, the restaurant received a couple of informal noise complaints from neighbors.
"It's been a work in progress," she explained. "Since then we've done everything we could to accommodate our neighbors. We moved our speaker set-up around, we hired professional DJs. They'll run around the street with their decibel counters to check what the noise is around the restaurant."
Rockport doesn't have enough of a nightlife scene, Millbury argues, and she believes outdoor events such as hers could attract younger clientele to the town.
"(The proposed ordinance) is not conducive to the businesses in the area," she said. "It's a business district so you should expect it to be lively outside. If someone doesn't like the noise, I suggest they don't live in the downtown area."
The noise ordinance could also affect the Shalin Liu Performance Center, 37 Main St., which often rents out its third-floor reception room for weddings and other events. Two years ago, several complaints about noise there were lodged, but a town board found no fault.
"DJs and bands must be aware that volume levels will be monitored and should be followed during the function," the Shalin Liu warns would-be renters. "The on-duty manager is the final arbiter of what is an acceptable noise level; if the DJ or renter does not abide by the on-duty manager’s requests, the Rockport Police will be contacted."
To cut down on noise, the Shalin-Liu keeps its windows and French doors closed, and expects such events to end by 11 p.m.
Stephen Smit, one of the owners of Feather & Wedge Restaurant, at 5 Main St., and the beginning of Bearskin Neck, doesn't think this ordinance will affect his business much.
"We host musicians here on Thursday evenings and during Sunday brunch, but they're held indoors as opposed to outdoors," he said, adding that the restaurant has never had a noise complaint in the past. "But, at the same time, I'm supportive of all events that bring people to the town."
Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or firstname.lastname@example.org.