Much ado about noise: Breckenridge and bar owner engage in unnecessary rigamarole over decibel levels
July 25, 2018
Appealing a denied application to exceed Breckenridge's permissible noise levels, the longtime owner of The Historic Brown Hotel and Fox's Den didn't get to speak during Tuesday's hearing before Breckenridge Town Council.
It might have been just as well, though, because the business owner, Michael Cavanaugh, left the meeting ready to rock, even though the town's elected officials upheld the decision to deny him the permit. Confused? Initially, so was Cavanaugh.
The businessman is planning a series of regular live music performances outdoors at his bar and live music venue. Coming into the meeting, there was some uncertainty over zoning that threatened to bring those performances from the roar of a hairdryer down to the volume of a close conversation.
Walking into council chambers minutes before 7:30 p.m., Cavanaugh arrived just in time to watch council uphold the town manager's denial of his permit request, but too late to offer any statements on the matter.
However, it seems there was a mutual misunderstanding about the zoning of The Brown, too, and upon learning he could pump out the same levels of sound during outdoor performances that other Breckenridge taverns do — up to 70 decibels until 10:59 p.m. — Cavanaugh left the meeting in high spirits. Ultimately, he didn't need the permit.
Per town code, noise is limited to 55 decibels from 7:01 a.m. to 10:59 p.m. and 50 decibels outside those hours in residentially zoned areas. For commercial zones, the town is somewhat less restrictive, allowing up to 70 and 65 decibels, respectively.
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Breckenridge's noise ordinance offers anyone who would like to exceed those levels the opportunity to seek a permit to do so, issued at the discretion of the town manager, which happens to be Rick Holman.
According to Holman, the live, outdoor music performances Cavanaugh wants at The Brown were never really in question, only how loud they could be.
"There's no rule that says he can't have outdoor music," the town manager said Tuesday in response to a question posed by council. "The rule says you can't exceed the noise level there."
The town received a letter from Cavanaugh on July 3 seeking a town-issued permit to exceed the maximum permissible noise at The Historic Brown Hotel and Fox's Den at 206 N. Ridge St., Breckenridge.
In the letter, Cavanaugh describes the regular events, saying they would be outside on the business's south deck, between the hours of 3:30 and 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the summer. The letter asks to exceed the permissible level of 50 decibels for residentially zoned areas by 40 decibels, which it turns out was based on incorrect information.
According to a noise comparison chart produced by The University of Purdue, noises of 50 decibels are one-fourth as loud as 70 decibels and on par with a conversation held in one's home. Likewise, noises of 90 decibels are four times as loud as those at 70 decibels and likely to cause hearing damage within eight hours of exposure.
At Holman's request, Breckenridge police tried to contact nearby residents and "poll the neighborhood" about Cavanaugh's request.
In many cases, Holman said, police struggled to make contact because many of the nearby residences are tied to second-home owners; others were occupied by short-term renters.
Of the people police were able to speak to, Holman continued, none favored granting Cavanaugh the permit. Holman added that he "was not able to find anybody that was supportive of this" and that he "personally felt it was not a good use in that area."
Per town code, some considerations the town manager is supposed to keep in mind when weighing the kind of permit Cavanaugh was seeking are the time of day and duration of the proposed noise, how loud it could be relative to town limits and whether the noise would be temporary or continuous, among other things.
Saying he had a petition signed by about 75 supporters, Cavanaugh appealed Holman's decision to town council. On July 18, Holman received the appeal and Cavanaugh was granted his hearing.
On Tuesday, town council proceeded with the hearing without Cavanaugh in the audience.
As it turns out, though, The Brown is actually zoned commercial, according to both Holman and the town attorney, which would allow The Historic Brown Hotel and Fox's Den to have outdoor performances up to 70 decibels, not the 50 decibels Cavanaugh and town officials had originally thought.
After the meeting, Cavanaugh was asked if he can produce a good show at 70 decibels, akin to the noise put out by a vacuum cleaner, and he said he could: "Yeah, I believe so."
This Friday, The Historic Brown Hotel and Fox's Den has booked the Denver-based band Judo Chop.