Partly because of loud music blasting from bars, including those in the vicinity of Wornall Road and 75th Street, the Kansas City Council in early May voted to revise its ordinance regulating noise at commercial and residential properties.
Bert Malone, deputy director of the Kansas City Health Department, in testimony before the Council’s Committee on Neighborhoods, Housing and Healthy Communities, identified excessive noise as a “public health problem.”
After hearing from Malone and residents, including Maureen Hardy and Jon Rand of the WPHA board, the committee voted unanimously to send the ordinance to the full Council with recommendation for passage. The Council voted to pass it the next day.
Malone explained that excessive noise causes undue stress for residents, potentially contributing to heart disease. He also cited extreme frustration of residents kept up at night.
He reported that his department received 178 noise complaints in 2014 and receives between 125 and 180 in any given year. Most complaints are neighbor to neighbor.
The previous ordinance, Malone explained, had become out of date because of changes in development and technology. While bar areas formerly were relatively separate from residential neighborhoods, they now are often on top of each other, particularly downtown and in Waldo. Many downtown commercial buildings that once sat vacant after business hours have been turned into apartments and condominiums.
More sophisticated testing equipment, Malone explained, will give city inspectors better tools to measure both high and low-frequency noises.
Also, the current ordinance was passed before smoking bans inside city bars and restaurants, which prompted additions of outdoor decks featuring loud music.
Malone, who has helped mediate problems between bar owners and residents in Waldo, asked to hear from community representatives who could lend their perspectives to the proposal.
Hardy testified that after a meeting between Waldo residents and bar owners two years ago, most owners agreed to fix the problem. Chris and Andy Lewellen, owners of two popular spots, spent thousands of dollars adjusting the sound for the outdoor deck of The Well.
However, Hardy added, some other bars continue to emit excessive noise that can be heard from her home a few blocks away. Neighbors often call her to complain.
She said. “A lot of people call me and say, ‘We have children who need to get up and go to school in the morning and it’s 11o’clock.'”
Rand suggested that the uncooperative bars, if only a minority, made the revised ordinance necessary. He said that, in addition to loud music, neighbors have complained about noise from bottles being smashed into dumpsters after closing time and party buses standing in front of homes.
Malone added that although the revised ordinance spells out an enforcement process, he would prefer to first attempt mediation to resolve complaints.
“We will go out and say, ‘Do you realize what you’re doing? Here’s what you can do to comply,'” he said. “We will not order a citation until the second complaint within thirty days.”
Noise complaints, from loud music to barking dogs, can be directed to 311, the city’s action line. Residents seeking immediate action can call 911.
“Hopefully,” Malone said, “this will lead to a more peaceful environment.”