Historic Brown and Fox’s Den to enter trial by jury for noise complaints and petition the town of Breckenridge for rezoning
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the timing of a meeting between Mountain Top Children’s Museum and Historic Brown owner Michael Cavanaugh.
BRECKENRIDGE — The Historic Brown and Fox’s Den, a hotel and music venue located just off of Main Street Breckenridge, may be rezoned. The building itself is a historic building from 1895 that the owner, Michael Cavanaugh, bought in 1985. The hotel hosts music events periodically in the basement-level Fox’s Den. Last July, there was some confusion about the noise restrictions on the venue, but Cavanaugh walked away believing he was zoned for commercial noise levels.
Breckenridge town code requires that noise levels for commercially zoned areas do not exceed 70 decibels, while the maximum noise level for residentially zoned areas is 55 decibels. A decibel level comparison chart by Yale University’s department of environmental health and safety compares 55 decibels to the hum of a household refrigerator, while 70 decibels is somewhere between normal conversation and the sound of a vacuum cleaner.
It turns out that three sides of The Historic Brown are zoned commercially, but the fourth side, which is on North French Street, is zoned for residential noise levels. This zoning begins at the edge of the road closest to the hotel. Cavanaugh is petitioning the town to get the North French Street side of the building zoned for commercial noise levels.
Cavanaugh is collecting signatures from Breckenridge residents on an affidavit that requests a change in zoning that would allow The Historic Brown to be zoned for commercial noise levels on all sides. He said he plans to submit the affidavit and petition within the next week and expects the issue to be brought up in council in the Oct. 22 Breckenridge Town Council meeting or the Nov. 12 meeting.
Pending what happens at Town Council, Cavanaugh plans to have a trial by jury to fight the noise ordinance violations he has been cited with. Cavanaugh said that if it happens, the trial is to be set in November.
“The ordinance needs to be rewritten,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s out of date.”
Breckenridge Town Manager Rick Holman was doubtful that the town would amend the boundaries for noise level zoning in Cavanaugh’s favor.
“Other than one person, we haven’t had any desire (to change the ordinance) and I don’t think the people living around there want to see it changed,” Holman said.
According to Cavanaugh, the violations he has received are due to ongoing issues with a residential neighbor. The neighbor, George E. McLaughlin, is a trial attorney based in Denver who has a second home is Breckenridge. McLaughlin’s home is approximately one foot from Cavanaugh’s property line. He said he bought the property in 1997 to spend time in Breckenridge with his family and rents the house as a short-term rental property when he isn’t using it.
“I got along great with Michael Cavanaugh, the owner, for 17 years,” McLaughlin said. “We really had no significant problems. We own the house immediately next door and when we were in town or when we had guests staying, Michael did a good job at keeping people quiet late at night. Then he did this renovation project. …”
McLaughlin said that to his understanding, the renovation was going to be a historic preservation of the back of the building and there was going to be a recording studio put in place in the basement.
“I thought that was fine,” McLaughlin said. “Maybe I should have paid more attention to the design plans. When he completed the project they had built an outdoor bar right over the fence from our house.”
Once the project was complete, McLaughlin said noise immediately became a problem with large numbers of people in the outdoor bar area. He said he didn’t make any noise complaints until the Fourth of July weekend in 2018, when he came to the house with his then 5 and 7-year-old children. McLaughlin said on this particular weekend, there was a band playing outside.
“The band was so loud that you couldn’t hear,” McLaughlin said. “I was 30 feet away from a fully amplified rock band. It was clearly beyond acceptable noise permits. I called the police and they shut that down.”
McLaughlin said the charge was dropped because the noise reading was not over the limit. He said that this was because the police did the noise reading from the wrong place — the commercial side of the building opposite the band rather than the residential side. McLaughlin asked the city to enforce the noise limits by taking measurements from the property line on French Street. He bought his own commercial noise reader in order to take noise measurements.
When the McLaughlin family came to the house on Labor Day Weekend, minus McLaughlin’s wife, as he said she refused to come to the house due to frustration over the noise, there was another band playing. McLaughlin opened the window to take a noise reading and said he was met with profane yelling from a concert attendee. He said that since then, he has called the police every time he believes The Historic Brown is in violation of noise ordinances.
McLaughlin cited other issues he has encountered due to the live music next door, including vomit on his front steps and beer cans in his yard and on the street that he has to clean up.
“All I want is for him to obey the law,” McLaughlin said. “I’m not asking for any special treatment, I just want him to obey the law. It’s ruined our time up there.”
When McLaughlin speaks of the law, he is specifically talking about the residential noise levels that The Brown Hotel is subject to.
“There’s no rule that says he can’t have outdoor music,” Holman said last year at Town Council. “The rule says you can’t exceed the noise level there.”
Despite Cavanaugh’s determination to get the entire building zoned for commercial use, he intends to sell the building when it’s all over. Cavanaugh said he wants to return to his former home in Montana or go to live near his daughter, but he wants to make sure whoever buys the place doesn’t have to deal with the noise ordinance issues he has faced.
“I don’t like to leave loose ends,” Cavanaugh said.
Cavanaugh said he met with the Mountain Top Children’s Museum this spring, as they were interested in buying the building, which was listed for $2 million. Executive director Laura Horvath said a fundraiser is in place for a new museum location. Both Horvath and Cavanaugh were doubtful the money would be raised anytime soon.
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