Noise ordinance draft could be ready next week



David Woolworth, an acoustician with Oxford Acoustics who was hired by the New Orleans City Council to issue a report and recommendations for the city's noise ordinance, updated the council today with a timeline for presenting a draft. He planned to introduce his recommendations for a draft of the ordinance — which would impact Bourbon Street — by the end of March. But City Council vice-president Stacy Head asked Woolworth to help get a draft prepared by the next council meeting, which is March 27. Woolworth said he can put the project on the "frontburner" and Head suggested leaving blanks — like the hard caps for decibel levels — for public input.

"My hope is that the very next step is our staffs go back to our offices with you guiding us to draft legislation," she said. "It allows us to have an actual discussion and put it in the public forum."

Woolworth originally planned to help introduce a draft between April 10-24, with an anticipated one or two month approval process followed by a one or two month compliance period, with full enforcement of the ordinance by the end of 2014.

In January, City Council pulled the plug on a draft noise ordinance — one that had seemingly ignored Woolworth's August 2013 report and recommendations. Council announced it would plan a "stripped-down" version focused on Bourbon Street to be enforced by four officers within the city's Health Department. Later that month, the City Council renewed Woolworth's contract through 2014.

"Any ordinance that comes out, comes out based on sound," said District C councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer said. "We do not want to criminalize the sound issue."

On March 6 and March 12, Woolworth led two nighttime walks measuring sound along Bourbon Street. (The New York Times profiled Woolworth's work and the noise ordinance issue here.) At today's meeting, he introduced a few recommendations, including measuring sound at the doorway, placing a hard cap on dBA and dBC decibel readings, and short measurement intervals ("walk up and down the street and get an idea of what’s going on right away”). Woolworth also noted that there are inconsistencies with measuring dilapidated buildings, and often noise is coming from more than one places ("We're going to have that happen from time to time," he said. "Be prepared for it.")

"A hard cap and measuring at the door should take care of a lot of issues," Woolworth said.

As for managing sound coming from courtyards (outward-facing loudspeakers are banned thanks to a March 2012 ordinance), Woolworth said crowd noise is difficult to regulate. "You can’t put a volume knob on your patrons," he said. He said he plans to coordinate using barriers with the Vieux Carre Commission.

The contentious noise ordinance process was a motivating factor in the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates (VCPORA) and French Quarter Citizens from leaving the state agency French Quarter Management District. Nathan Chapman, a former president of VCPORA who helped lead the "seven essentials" recommendations that appeared in the scratched noise ordinance, said at today's meeting that he's "optimistic we can work out agreeable compromises" with the next draft.

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