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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Milton Council Looks At Noise Ordinance

by Jason Wright / Appen Newspapers

October 22, 2008MILTON - The cries of Bethany Creek residents sick of noise coming from nearby Montana's Bar and Grill on Ga. 9 reached City Council again Oct. 13.Montana's, which hosts live music and karaoke in a converted Ace Hardware greenhouse, backs up to the neighborhood. Residents have routinely complained to council about the noise. They've called Fulton and Milton police regularly every weekend for nearly four years, and Montana's was fined for the first time in July.Despite meetings between residents and Montana's owner Cary Eubanks, the situation continues.

At the work session, acting City Manager Chris Lagerbloom, who helped craft the city's noise law in his capacity as Public Safety director last April, brought up the possibility of tweaking portions pertaining to amplified music to try and appease citizens.He also mentioned there have been complaints about Milton High School's noise during football season. The school is exempt from the ordinance for games. Those calls and e-mails have gone down, though, he said - it's now just one consistent complainer."However, I want to caution us that we don't change a law just to deal with one issue," said Lagerbloom.

Lagerbloom said in discussions with City Attorney Ken Jarrard it became clear restricting certain types of amplified noises wasn't the best way to fix the problem. Instead, it was a better plan to simply change the decibel levels allowable at certain times.As it stands now, Milton's ordinance states that noise cannot exceed 65 decibels in a person's property before 10 p.m. After then until to 7:30 a.m., that level drops to 60, about the level of common speech from a foot away.

It's a conservative law, said Lagerbloom."Our decibels are lower than any of the cities that surround us," he said. Councilwoman Karen Thurman asked how much over the ordinance Montana's Bar and Grill was during all these calls from residents."I can tell you he's right on the line," said Lagerbloom. "There must be a tape mark on the amplifier. It is consistently at the highest allowable decibel level for that particular time of day."

Lagerbloom said he and former City Manager Billy Beckett had a meeting with Eubanks, but the mediation was not successful.Councilwoman Tina D'Aversa said she thought since the complaints were limited to basically two buildings, figuring out a solution to those problems without changing the city-wide noise ordinance was a better idea. She proposed looking at zoning ordinances to catch the problem before it became protracted and creating a new set of rules for "outdoor entertainment."

"There's got to be a point where we put pressure that there will be a solution here," said Mayor Joe Lockwood.Councilman Burt Hewitt suggested taking the fact that Milton was looking at changing the ordinance to something "he wouldn't be able to do business with" back to Eubanks for that pressure.Councilwoman Julie Zahner Bailey wanted to know if the law could be tweaked simply because Montana's is so close to residences. In other parts of the city that's not a problem, she said.The spectre of uncertainty that looms over the issue, said Jarrard, is the "law of unintended consequences."

"Do we know the outcome of lowering the ordinance 10 or 15 decibels?" he asked. "I'll tell you right here I do not. I'm not used to a restaurant playing a game of chicken with the local jurisdiction to see who blinks first."

Lagerbloom said he would bring forward the same ordinance with a new drop of ten decibels for night time noise.

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