By Elizabeth F. McNamara
On Wednesday, BLU on the Water filed suit in federal court against the town because of changes to the noise ordinance, lowering decibel levels for establishments on the waterfront. The Town Council approved those changes three months ago, in response to impassioned pleas from a few residents living nearby who said their summer evenings were ruined by the pulsing bass coming from the outdoor music from, in particular, BLU on the Water and Finn’s Harborside. Both establishments, along with Nautika and the EG Firemen’s Hall, feature outdoor live amplified music from late May through September.
The lawsuit argues the revised ordinance treats BLU differently than other similarly zoned establishments in other parts of town and that the changes would “deprive BLU of all beneficial use of its property, thereby constituting a taking.”
The new ordinance, which took eight months, multiple meetings, and the hiring of a sound consultant to complete, dropped limits by 10 decibels (15 decibels if you count the formerly allowed 5-decibel leeway) – from 75dbC and 70dbA to 65dbC and 60dbA. DbC measures the more complained-about thumping lower bass frequencies (one of the lawsuit’s contentions is that East Greenwich is the only municipality in the state to use dbC readings).
The changes went into effect immediately but the season for outdoor music on the waterfront doesn’t begin until Memorial Day weekend. The waterfront is the only area in town where businesses feature amplified outdoor music on a regular basis.
“No one is questioning the town’s ability to impose reasonable and consistent regulations and ordinances,” said BLU attorney Jeff Gladstone via email. “But, when an ordinance is selective, unreasonable/unattainable and punitive, and will prohibit the very business that is permitted in a commercial zone (as is the case with the impact of East Greenwich’s new sound ordinance on BLU’s property that is zoned commercial highway) the regulation becomes illegal … and unconstitutional.”
Find the complaint here: BLU v. Town of East Greenwich.
BLU, Finn’s, Nautika and the Fireman’s Hall are classified as restaurants with liquor licenses by the town. The town does not have a nightclub designation. Any business that wants to provide live outdoor music must obtain a yearly permit through the police department, which is also tasked with monitoring noise levels. Last summer, police and the sound consultant hired by the town took decibel readings. Both BLU and Finn’s had regular readings that, under the new ordinance, would not be allowed.
Finn’s owner Mark Finn, who had argued against the ordinance, said in October if the changes were approved he would abide by them, which he said would mean not hiring certain bands to play there.
BLU’s suit asks the court to void the noise ordinance changes and to stop the town from enacting the ordinance.
“We have asked for injunctive relief. We will pursue all needed relief to allow BLU to conduct its business,” said Gladstone.
Town Manager Andrew Nota issued this statement late Thursday:
“The Town in conducting a comprehensive review of its local noise ordinance and other related concerns as expressed by residents, provided for an open and transparent dialogue that took place over several months. This managed public process provided the opportunity for all interested parties, including businesses and residents potentially impacted by the contemplated changes to the ordinance, to provide direct information, comment, expert testimony, business and economic information as well as other perspectives that they felt were important for the Town Council to consider in their deliberation.”
He continued, “We’re disappointed that the owners of BLU, have opted to select the path of litigation, rather than implementing any number of sound mitigation improvements to their facility that may have provided the necessary relief and compromise needed to provide for a broader community enjoyment of our very active waterfront. The Town remains confident that the recent amendments to the noise ordinance will withstand legal scrutiny and we look forward to continuing this conversation and in defending the ordinance in court.”
Read more here:
Noise Ordinance Approved Without Fanfare
Noise Ordinance Moves Closer to Adoption
Letter to Editor: Proposed Noise Ordinance Changes Will Hurt Waterfront Businesses
Discussion on Waterfront Noise Gets Loud
Noise Ordinance Held Again; Restaurants Say Waterfront Will Be More Liveable
Council Approves Waterfront Noise Study, Hits Pause on Noise Ordinance
Noise Ordinance Still on Table but Compromise Sought
Letter to Editor: Blu Stokes Patron Resentments
Waterfront Restaurants Muster Fight on Noise Ordinance
Council Hears of Waterfront Noise, Drunkenness, Parking Woes; Considers Stricter Rules
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Two reasons why Blu doesn’t want the ordinance:
1. Louder music drives away more mature people who likely would drink less
2. Louder music leads to higher alcohol consumption (see link below).
The ordinance won’t kill the business but it may lead to fewer antisocial drunks and DUI’s. Check old Police Log notices, there were, more than 5 citing patrons of BLU for this including one where the patron was so drunk they couldn’t drive out of the parking lot.
BLU contesting the ordinance is an admission that they choose to not operate in the town citizens’ best interests. Would it take an incident such as a “death by DUI” to drive (pun intended) this point home?
Funny that BLU thinks they have been treated differently than other restaurants/music venues in town. Think about them not being able to play music at all, even during the daytime. Such is the case with the restaurant attached to the East Greenwich Golf Club on Division Road west of Route 2. They couldn’t even play wedding music and there isn’t a sleepy resident within a half mile of the venue. Neighbors out there had the ear of the town council, them running all over with sound measuring devices just in case the neighbors might have heard something louder than a turkey gobble. Now there is a restaurant that has a legitimate complaint.
I’m surprised it took this long if the winds blowing the right way I hear the bands eight blocks from there
Someone should build a huge nightclub over near those medical buildings on route two they close up tight at 5 and nobody’s there on the weekends anyway
What a low class move by BLU. I’m not really surprised, sadly. They are poor at dealing with conflict and in the process damage relationships. Like what’s happening here. EG made BLU, not the other way around. When it comes down to it the scene by the Harbor would be better without BLU. The location is amazing and EG could do better. So guys, if you don’t like what the town wants, you can take a hike.
I love live music and this ordinance eliminates the ability for any waterfront business to play music (Bands / DJs / etc.) as the decibel levels are just too low. With these decibel level limits, this ordinance blocks music at the waterfront altogether, all day long every day. Try this test to see for yourself. Download a free decibel meter for your smartphone. Hold the device near a speaker in your home playing music or near a conversation between 2 or more people. You’ll see decibel levels well above the 60 decibel limit. How can our waterfront businesses function if a simple conversation will constitute a violation of the ordinance?
With conversation level sound triggering a violation of this ordinance, it is impossible for a waterfront restaurant to play music and not be in violation. It seems that this was the intent of the ordinance- to just stop music altogether on the waterfront. I’m 100% in support of music turned off by a certain curfew so that people living nearby can sleep, but not eliminating music all day long, all Summer long. With these incredibly low decibel levels, thats what this ordinance mandates.
Along with our quaint Main Street, waterfront restaurants attracted my wife and me to move to East Greenwich 15+ years ago. From what I’ve read here on EG News and heard from EG locals, music has been a constant on the waterfront for decades. The waterfront and its businesses are something that residents all over Rhode Island enjoy, it’s a shame that all amplified music on the waterfront will be stopped by this ordinance.