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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Turn that music down! City of Wilmington revisiting noise ordinances, possible changes in the works

From loud parties to live music, the city's noise ordinance is being reviewed by both city staff and city council.

The Wilmington Strong Hurricane Florence Relief Concert at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Saturday night. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Live music is a part of Wilmington, but some council members have a problem with the noise coming from downtown bars and venues  (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — Turn that music down! The City of Wilmington is considering some changes to the city’s noise ordinance to address growing concerns as more and more residents choose to call the Port City home.

The city already has a set of ordinances that restrict the noise levels permitted in both residential and commercial areas but according to City Attorney Meredith Everhart, there are some changes and clarifications that could be made.

According to Everhart, the issue of noise in the city has been an item of concern for City Council for several months and city staff has been directed to look into best practices in dealing with noisy neighbors.

Current regulations

Current noise ordinances in the city consist of several different aspects including the location of the noise, times the noise is permitted, and the levels of sound that can be audible.

In residential areas during the day, which, for the city is between the hours of 7 a.m. – 11 p.m., a noise level of 65 decibels is permitted. Nighttime levels are lowered to 55 decibels and on weekends, the daytime limits are extended until midnight.

Commercial areas have a 75-decibel limit during daytime hours and 70 decibels at night. and for the Downtown district, there is a 75-decibel limit during daytime hours and a 65-decibel limit during nighttime hours.

Enforcement issues

The Wilmington Strong Hurricane Florence Relief Concert at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Saturday night. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The permitting process the city currently uses to allow loud events is coming under scrutiny by city leaders (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

But there are some issues city staff and police face when responding to a noise complaint. Firstly, the city utilizes a decibel meter to determine the volume of the sound. In crowded areas like downtown where there might be multiple bars and restaurants producing noise, the meter is unable to determine the individual noise from a single building.

Another issue with the meter is the fact the city only has one, and for good reason, the machine itself costs around $10,000 and is highly sensitive, Everhart said.

So what about live music and entertainment? City code does address this — but it is somewhat vague as to what constitutes a noise violation.

According to the code, “In the case of outdoor entertainment, including live or recorded speech, music, or other sound, whether or not a permit is required for the activity under section 6-30(b)(1), sound level measurements shall be made as prescribed in this section. In no case, however, shall the decibel level of such activity exceed the levels allowed pursuant to this article when measured at a point one hundred (100) feet away from the source of the sound and beyond the boundary line of the premises from which the noise emanates.”

But what is the exceeding level at the point 100-feet away that constitutes a noise disturbance — the definition only describes it as being “plainly audible.”

“For the purposes of this section, a noise disturbance shall be presumed to exist where the sound or noise caused by any activity described herein is plainly audible within any occupied structure not the source of the sound or noise or within any public area more than sixty-six (66) feet from the property line of the commercial establishment,” the ordinance reads.

For Councilman Kevin O’Grady, an outspoken advocate for the Residents of Old Wilmington, bars and other venues in the downtown area playing music or hosting live shows should not be allowed to have their doors open.

“Walking by a bar when the doors are open, that is noise as an advertisement … they want the noise to come out and they want it to fill the street. We had one bar downtown that had a rooftop concert series all summer, bands played on the rooftop with no regard to the neighbors,” O’Grady said.

Everhart did not directly respond to whether or not the city could force bars and venues to keep all music indoors.


It is worth pointing out however, the city is planning the new North Waterfront Park and Live Nation amphitheater which will be hosting live music, outdoors, near multiple residential units.

That is why Everhart’s presentation suggested making some exceptions to the noise ordinance for city-sponsored events (this exception could also apply to the city-owned Hugh Morton Amphitheater at Greenfield Lake).

Some of the possible changes the city could make include a revised permitting process, the current system does not give city staff the opportunity to deny a permit making it difficult to tell someone no, Everhart said.

A revamped process would make things easier for staff to deny a request including due to prior noise violations and the objection of neighbors.

The city also wants to explore how to enforce noise ordinances if the decibel level is not exceeded and is looking at other cities to help guide its policy.

Ultimately, nothing was decided upon but residents can expect a conversation about noise in the city to continue among elected officials.

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