A new noise ordinance slated to take effect Monday is being hailed by some disgruntled neighbors as a solution for loud music from bar patios, while business owners say it limits the livelihood of El Paso’s nightlife scene.
The noise ordinance is targeted at businesses that are within 350 feet of a residence and play amplified sound outdoors, including live music, DJs and speaker systems.
Beginning next week, businesses will have to quiet outdoor music at 10 p.m. unless they get a permit from the city, which would allow the music to keep going until midnight.
Several residents who live in Kern Place, the historic neighborhood behind the Cincinnati Entertainment District, spoke at Tuesday’s City Council meeting during public comment, saying the noise from nearby bars makes living there at times unbearable, especially on weekends.
“This is my reality,” said Kern resident Anne Giangiulio. “I hear their music in my bedroom and cannot enjoy my own backyard Thrusdays through Sundays. I’m a parent, and for those of you who can relate you just wanna crash into bed, exhausted.”
But some bar owners say the ordinance will hurt their businesses. Austin Allen, president of the El Paso Bar and Restaurant Owners Association and owner of the Love Buzz bar in the Five Points neighborhood, said many bars receive at least 70% of their business after midnight.
“This ordinance as it stands is harmful to small businesses across the city,” Allen said. “Without a doubt, it will have a negative impact and will shut businesses down.”
City Council approved the noise ordinance back in February and officials said the permit applications have been online for a few weeks now. A noise ordinance permit will cost $322 plus applicable technology fees.
On Tuesday, City Council directed staff to come back in September with an amendment to the code that would allow businesses to apply for an additional extended-hours permit if they want to play music until 2 a.m.
To get the permit, businesses would have to complete sound mitigation practices, including putting up sound baffles or other physical noise barriers.
The noise ordinance does not apply to Downtown or smart code communities, which are zoned as general mixed use.
Karl Rimkus, operations manager at the Environmental Services Department, said the city historically has gotten noise complaints from the neighborhoods near Cincinnati, the San Francisco Historic District in Downtown and in the Five Points neighborhood.
“We would have preferred people already apply (for the permit) but we didn’t get a lot of cooperation on that front,” Rimkus said. “I think this was made clear at Council. You need to come in and start applying now if you haven’t done so.”
Allen said the noise ordinance would impact about 130 businesses. Rimkus said notices were sent out to 205 businesses, but he expects the final number to be much lower, maybe a few dozen.
So, what happens after Monday if nearby residents hear those businesses still bringing the noise outdoors after 10 p.m.?
“We’ll notify the business that they need to come in and apply for a permit within 10 days,” Rimkus said. “Once they apply, that starts a timeframe according to the ordinance.”
If a business doesn’t apply for the permit, they’ll be put on a list, Rimkus said, and code enforcers or police would be able to visit the business after 10 days to see if they’re in compliance. If they’re not in compliance, they can be cited.
“If you never apply for a permit and keep doing it over and over, the city has other legal avenues,” Rimkus said. “We can go to court and seek relief in that venue and can also issue additional citations.”
Patrick McNeil, owner of the Lowbrow, Good Times at 2626 and International bars, implored City Council to look at the big picture, saying young El Pasoans are moving out of the city at the first chance they get and not coming back.
“It’s a ripple effect that’s much greater than the code itself,” McNeil said. “It’s about keeping El Pasoans here and seeing the potential of what a bunch of people have started, to carry on the baton to create greater things.”
McNeil said a vibrant nightlife in the city is one of the things necessary to keep people here, especially when El Paso is competing against cities like Austin and Dallas, both of which have massive and vibrant nightlife scenes.
Austin has a noise ordinance that goes into effect at 10 p.m. and limits noise above 85 decibels at that time. City officials in a presentation said they studied the noise ordinances of Austin and other Texas cities while researching the best fit for El Paso.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105.