Tweakers of the speakers: Frisco floats draft of new ordinance restricting sound levels

Tribute to Herbie Hancock featuring members of The Motet performs on the music stage during the annual Colorado BBQ Challenge June 15, 2017 on Main Street in Frisco. While a new noise ordinance is being developed to keep noise to a minimum in town, events such as the Colorado BBQ Challenge aren't yet addressed in the draft.
Hugh Carey /

The town of Frisco introduced a draft of a new noise ordinance at a workshop on Tuesday afternoon, seeking to define the boundaries of noise production in town and provide officials with objective standards for monitoring and enforcing the new rules.

The town currently doesn’t have any specific regulations to govern sound levels through decibel measurements, relying instead on existing nuisance provisions in the town code — largely general rules meant to prohibit substantial annoyances and the endangering of the public, though noise isn’t mentioned.

With 40 noise complaints filed with the Frisco Police Department over the last year, the town decided it was time to set something in stone.

“There are a lot of concerns from people in the main core of town with competing business and having music playing,” said Town Councilman Rick Ihnken. “The ordinance is really to give the police department or citizens a route to mitigate what they perceive as a nuisance and it gives us a bar to measure that at.”

The town reached out to a number of stakeholders — the Frisco Business Advisory Group, town staff, nearby municipalities and several individuals — to determine the best course of action for a potential ordinance. The group broadly decided to keep the ordinance as simple as possible as to not interfere with Frisco’s “lively, small town, and high quality sense of character and atmosphere,” as outlined in the draft.

While noise may be an issue now, primarily complaints of music from the town core, the ordinance is also meant to serve as a more proactive approach as the town considers its growth and upcoming developments.

“This was a proactive approach to get out in front of this with the growth we’re seeing not only in town, but in the county as a whole,” said Ihnken. “There’s several projects that are either on the books to be built, or are being built right now that could bring up a noise concern … We saw this is a need, and will continue to be a need going forward.”

One such development is the 10 Mile Music Hall currently under construction on Main Street, a massive music venue that will open for concerts this October. Owner Todd Altschuler is on board with a potential noise ordinance.

“The ordinance is based around decibel levels at the point of the complaint,” said Altschuler. “I think this could be very symbiotic for the community. It sets a standard for people to act as they should, and businesses can be held accountable where otherwise they weren’t. It sounds like they’re working to keep a vibrant community and make sure that residents aren’t blown out of their homes. I’m all for that.”

For the town the name of the game is decibel levels. The draft, put together by community development director Joyce Allgaier, outlines proposed acceptable noise levels for commercial and residential zones at both day and night. In commercial zones, the proposed maximum decibel level is 70 during the day and 65 at night (daytime hours are defined as 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., though council discussed starting nighttime hours at 10 p.m.). In residential zones, acceptable decibel levels are 55 during the day and 50 at night. For reference, a normal conversation between two people would fall between 60 and 65 decibels, while a concert may register between 100 and 130 decibels.

Noise limits were largely influenced by nearby and comparable government entities such as Breckenridge and Summit County that use the same limits, along with Carbondale, Steamboat Springs, Crested Butte, Aspen and other municipalities with similar limitations.

Enforcement of the ordinance would be primarily complaint-driven, or come into affect when noise violations were directly observed by law enforcement officials or town staff. The town would provide noise meters for staff and public use on request to allow the town to confirm and document violations. Rule-breakers could receive a fine or citation.

Still, citations or tickets may come as a last resort for those who’ve run out of other avenues to deal with noisy neighbors. Despite the emergence of a new ordinance, the town is hoping to lead with educational efforts and trying to avoid getting bogged down by petty complaints from people wanting to get their neighbors in trouble.

Frisco Police Chief Tim Wickman agreed with the sentiment, and said that most noise complaints are already handled amicably and without issue.

“I would say that 95 percent of the people are usually compliant,” said Wickman. “If people are not compliant, we can serve a summons, but that’s a last resort. We want to educate people to be kinder to their neighbors. These quality of life issues like noise and light pollution are always difficult, but they do affect people day-to-day in their lives.”

Currently there are special provisions proposed for things such as emergency service noises and sirens, school-related sounds, places of religious worship, snowmaking and others. Businesses and individuals can also request exemptions by the town manager. Issues still to be addressed include town or privately sponsored events on public property such as the Colorado BBQ Challenge, vehicular, construction and animal noises.

Before the ordinance comes before the council for public comment, there will be another draft as well as a public outreach session to gather community feedback likely within the next month.

“Bringing it back to the community is really about informing them that we’re working on this,” said Ihnken. “When it comes down to it we want to support their desires with ordinances that make sense. This could be a useful tool to keep Frisco the way we like it.”

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