Frisco moves along noise ordinance
September 28, 2018
The Frisco Town Council voted to push forward with the town's new noise ordinance on first reading at their regular meeting Tuesday evening, unanimously moving to amend the town code with specific regulations for when, where and how much noise individuals and businesses are allowed to make.
The new ordinance is meant to provide a balance between finding appropriate noise levels in town, while still encouraging a lively community.
"We hope that it will curb those nuisance calls and things that are persistent and annoying over time," said Councilwoman Jessica Burley. "But we also didn't want to cut off the vibrancy of our downtown core. A certain level of noise, music and people on the sidewalk is really important to the vitality of the town. We hope it will deal with some of those complaints, but still allow for the businesses on Main Street and the community to continue as normal."
According to town officials, the ordinance is meant to address current nuisances related to noise — the Frisco Police Department has received more than 40 noise complaints in the last year — as well as to serve as a proactive approach to new development in the area.
"The council requested a noise ordinance in part because of the advent of growth in the community, and lots of new outdoor uses like rooftop decks, music venues and al fresco dining," said Joyce Allgaier, Frisco's community development director. "The goal was to allow these kinds of uses, but to make them appropriate for Frisco. A certain amount of noise is part of an economically healthy place like Main Street. They want that to continue, but to have some limits as well."
The ordinance would essentially divide areas in town into either residential or commercial "noise zones," each with separate acceptable decibel levels for day and night. In commercial zones, the limits will be 70 decibels during the day (from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.), and 65 decibels at night. In residential areas, the daytime limit is 55 decibels (7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and 50 decibels at night. For reference, a typical conversation between two individuals would fall somewhere around 60 decibels, whereas a concert may register closer to 100-130 decibels.
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Given that context, a 50-decibel noise limit may seem a bit extreme, though Allgaier believes the limit is fair.
"If you were sitting next to someone speaking at 50 decibels in an outdoor café four or five feet away, you would feel like that noise was loud and probably not a pleasant experience if you weren't part of that conversation," said Allgaier.
In deciding on what decibel levels were acceptable, Allgaier said she took a noise meter around town to measure levels in different areas and at different times. In addition, the town researched a number of other similar municipalities with noise ordinances such as Aspen, Breckenridge and Steamboat among others to determine effective restrictions. Noise levels are measured from the property boundary of the affected property.
"These numbers are pretty common throughout lots of communities with our size," continued Allgaier.
Aside from general decibel restrictions, the ordinance also addresses a number of topics more specifically. For example, commercial entities using an exterior loudspeaker or amplifier must be a restaurant or liquor-licensed establishment, and must designate an employee to ensure compliance with decibel levels. The ordinance also prohibits the use of any noise making equipment for commercial advertising, as well as playing music too loudly on personal devices like a radio or phone.
Construction noise will be handled slightly differently. According to the ordinance, there is no limit on construction noise between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. No construction is allowed on Sundays, with the exception of individuals working on personal projects at their residences.
One common request from members of the public was that the town address sound emanated from engine braking devices, often called a "Jake brake." While the noise ordinance doesn't touch on the issue, provisions addressing the noise are expected to be added to the town's model traffic code in the near future.
While the ordinance is fairly comprehensive, there are several exemptions to the rules that allow for public town and state events such as the Colorado BBQ Challenge, snow plowing, emergency alarms and sirens, sound from places of religious worship and reasonable activity on public playgrounds, among others. Additionally, any person can apply to the town manager for a permit to exceed noise levels. When an application is submitted, the town will notify nearby property owners and consider their comments. An appeals process is also detailed within the ordinance for those whose application is denied.
Enforcement of the ordinance will fall on the shoulders of the Frisco Police Department, which will have discretion to either obtain voluntary compliance or issue a citation. Frisco Police Chief Tom Wickman said that most individuals they contact regarding noise complaints are voluntarily compliant, and will turn the noise down without necessitating any further action.
"I think it creates a more predictable way to manage noise," said Allgaier. "In the past we've had downtown merchants who are displeased with other merchants and their noise production. We want everybody to understand what the limits are so that those limits can be used in both directions. It's OK to produce noise, but it has to be acceptable. In the past we didn't have any means for enforcement."
The ordinance will have its second reading on Oct. 9 at the regular town council meeting, and will likely go into effect on Oct. 14.
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