Noise ordinance doesn’t affect all downtown residentsPosted: March 10, 2011
by Mitch Blomert
Downtown Athens may be loud at night, but its residents aren’t letting themselves be a part of it.
The booming music and chatter from thousands of customers at downtown businesses on the weekend hasn’t given tenants of the apartments above them any reason to be loud, as the number of noise ordinance violations given to residents in the area has remained stably low.
“There’s not much fluctuation there,” Athens-Clarke County Police Department Major Carter Greene said. “The residents really don’t have many noise ordinance violations parties downtown, surprisingly enough.”
Greene said the noise ordinance violations among downtown tenants remain low because citations are typically given on a basis of complaints from other residents.
With heavy noise already stemming from the ground-level bars and restaurants, the apartment-dwellers aren’t making a big deal about their neighbor’s loudness.
“Because they’re on the second floor where most all of the residences are, we don’t generally hear them,” Greene said. “They’re usually complaint-driven if there are ordinance violations downtown.”
The Athens-Clarke County noise ordinance states that a resident’s music or social activities should not be heard over 100 feet away between midnight and 7 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. the rest of the week.
The ordinance also states that daytime noise should not be heard from over 300 feet, meaning that violations can occur between 7 a.m. and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
In the case of apartments, condominiums, duplexes and other residential housing units, residents can be given a citation for noise violations as little as five feet away.
Citations for noise violations can be up to $1,000 and offenders can face up to six months of jail time.
But with the noise of downtown Athens picking up most at night—especially on the weekends—Athens-Clarke County Police cannot make a judgment between noises generated from a ground-level business and an apartment above it.
“If it’s a specific complaint, we would first try to meet with the complainant, and they would need for us to point out what it is they’re complaining about,” Greene said.
Residents are also unable to make noise complaints regarding businesses that have an adjoining property line, as the bars in downtown Athens have with the apartments above them.
“You’re validity for a noise complaint filed against the business is probably nil, because there’s an exception to the noise ordinance for businesses and noise created in normal accordance of business,” Greene said.
But noise violations aren’t always given on a basis of complaints, which has created problems with some downtown residents.
Ian Grady, a 2009 University of Georgia alumnus and now a law student at Emory University, was given a noise citation without a prior complaint in July of 2009 while hosting a band party at his Athens apartment on East Washington St., above the former location of Wild Wing Café.
Grady took the citation to the Georgia Supreme Court in February, claiming that his citation is “unconstitutional” and was a violation of free speech if no surrounding resident had filed a complaint.
“We shouldn’t let our impatience with noise overshadow the First Amendment,” Grady’s lawyer Charles Jones told The Red & Black in February. “If it’s not bothering anybody, it’s not diminishing their quality of life.”
For current residents, dealing with the surrounding noises of downtown Athens hasn’t been an issue.
“I haven’t had many noise problems coming from surrounding residents,” said Alesia Mickle, a senior University of Georgia student who lives at 909 Broad Apartments on East Broad St. “The loudest nights are Thursday-Saturday, but even then surrounding neighbors calm down at an appropriate time. I believe this is in part by my apartment security guards that walk around, man the parking garage, and keep residents and guests in line.”
Like most downtown residents, Mickle was aware of the loud activity that would be around her when she moved into 909 Broad.
She says that students living downtown should be more tolerant of heavy noise because it was their choice to live there, but that they still deserve quiet time to study.
“It is only fair to say that residents will hear occasional noise,” Mickle said. “However, residents do need time to study and sleep. As long as the partying is respectful and ends before the wee hours in the morning, I do believe noise is acceptable given the downtown resident lifestyle.”
But does that mean the government should give a higher tolerance to noisy neighbors in downtown residents?
Mickle says she doesn’t mind the occasional loud music and talking coming from next door, but has no problem if law enforcement gets involved—as long as they proceed with it only when needed.
“Police still need to be fair when handling noisy residents regardless of where the apartment resides,” Mickle said. “There is a place to party, like downtown’s bars and clubs, but apartment parties need to have boundaries set that respect surrounding residents. If residents disregard neighbors, the police needs to step in to fix the situation.”