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July 29, 2014

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Proposed noise ordinance changes draw rumbling

For owners of homes and businesses inside an entertainment district, dealing with a certain amount of noise from nearby venues is part of daily life.

But how loud is too loud? And what should be done about it?

Those were the questions of the night Tuesday as the Las Vegas City Council held a community meeting to get feedback on proposed changes to noise ordinances covering the six-block segment of downtown designated the Fremont East Entertainment District. FEED runs from Las Vegas Boulevard to 8th Street, and from Carson Avenue to Ogden Street.

The proposed changes would require FEED venues to close outdoor events by 2 a.m. on weekends and midnight on weeknights, unless a special permit has been granted by the city. Currently, the district is exempt from the city’s general noise laws.

James Woodbridge, founder of Neon Reverb, a twice-yearly music festival primarily held in the district, called the proposed changes “draconian” and asked where the complaining citizens were when the current noise ordinance was put into place in September 2008.

“Everyone had an opportunity when this process started to speak up,” he said. “Nobody did, and the law was passed. It is law now.”

Changing the law, he added, would kill businesses.

Woodbridge and several others noted that the Odgen, the high-rise tower housing many of the people complaining about the noise, opened well after the entertainment district was established in 2002. The Ogden opened in 2008, originally under the name Streamline Tower. Meanwhile, Beauty Bar, which operates an outdoor stage, opened in 2005 and quickly began holding outdoor music events.

Of the citizens speaking in favor of the ordinance, many said they enjoyed the urban life but just wanted it in moderation. One suggested using decibel readers to monitor and help control the noise without having to ban it completely. Others took issue with profanity being blasted from loudspeakers during such events as block festivals.

Many of the residents' comments were met by mutterings and occasional shouts of “Move to Summerlin, then!” from the crowd, which appeared to heavily support keeping the noise ordinances in place. Many in the crowd donned matching red T-shirts bearing the statement, “Keep Downtown Loud.”

Not all residents supported the change, however. Jerry Misko, a Las Vegas native living in the Odgen, said he loves the noise. “Garbage trucks, sirens, construction — those are louder.”

Misko added that many Las Vegans do not work 9-to-5 schedules and instead sleep during the day.

“Maybe they should complain about the daytime noise," he said.

Jennifer Cornthwaite of Downtown Cocktail Room and Emergency Arts, both located in the district, told council members they should hold themselves accountable for the effects that any changes might have on businesses.

“I would hope that, if this passes, you are willing to take all responsibility for what happens,” she said. “I hope you will realize you made a big mistake.”

The Tuesday night meeting was held only to gather information and public opinion. The meeting’s host, Ricki Barlow, the councilman behind the proposed changes, will take into consideration the comments and remarks on business comment cards mailed out earlier in the month, in deciding whether to continue with a proposal. If Barlow decides to do so, his proposal would be introduced to the city council recommend board on Oct. 19 and go before the entire council on Nov. 16.

Cornthwaite acknowledged the years of downtown revitalization efforts and urged the city not to push back progress.

Frank Elam echoed the statement. He owns the building housing a Latin nightclub called Tequila Azul, which opened one year ago. The business, located on 7th Street, is the primary targets of noise complaints.

“We cater to the Latin market,” said Elam. “The party doesn’t start until 11 (p.m.). If we have to shut down at 2 (a.m.), our business isn’t there. If this passes, we are out of business.”

Elam says he has invested $750,000 into Azul, all in the name of downtown development.

But Elam isn’t the only one heavily invested. Ada Cohen is too. She owns the Downtowner Motel, whose backside faces Azul, and says she has undergone almost $1 million dollars in renovations over the last few years. Yet the business is suffering because of its noise neighbors.

“We opened in 1963. We have seen ups and downs, but nothing like this past year. This is because of Azul,” she said, nearing tears as she addressed the packed room. “I don’t think Azul should ruin my business. I can’t do this anymore.”

Lesley Perceval says she sympathizes, especially if claims that the motel was not involved in the original talks about the creation of an entertainment district are true. Still, the community manager at City Center apartments says the Downtowner must simply adjust.

“That is what we did,” says Perceval. “We changed our rent ads, highlighted being so close to the entertainment district. When our leasing agents give tours, they always mention it. It’s a great selling point.”

Doing that, Perceval says, has kept the complex at 90 percent occupancy while their neighbors struggle with much lower numbers. The apartment building is located just outside FEED, but Perceval notes that she lives in the building and knows firsthand about the noise. She adds, “It’s not that bad. We have never received one complaint about it.”

Perceval thinks a proposed ordinance change is unnecessary and would hurt the progress of the area. Her suggestion is all too simple.

“Just turn it down a little,” she said.

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  1. My address used to be the middle of nowhere - hot air balloons landed in the empty lot next door. Development came. The empty lot is now a major shopping center. And of all places, a yogurt shop features live music outside on weekends. Even with my windows shut I'm forced to listen. But development is a trade-off. I now have a really convenient Target and Sears. And a bus stop right out front should I ever decide what public transportation is all about :)