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Newly Formed Neighborhood Group Seeks Ways to Curb Excessive Nightclub Noise

Accompanying images can be viewed in the March 2014 issue PDF

By Ben Lasky*

For almost a year, residents living near bars and nightclubs in Dupont Circle have complained that music and other noise from these establishments are overly disturbing.

On March 10th a meeting was held between those residents, nightclub owners and several ANC commissioners to figure out how all can work together to solve these issues.

Two nights prior to the meeting, Saturday the 8th, members of the DC Nightlife Noise Coalition visited nightclubs centered around the 1200 block of Connecticut Avenue for the purpose of determining if noise levels that could be heard from outside those clubs exceeded the 60-decibel legal limit.

From Rosebar on Connecticut Avenue, club music heard outside was recorded at 90 decibels –- well in excess of the legal limit.

From Ozio’s rooftop dance club in the 1800 block of M Street noise was recorded at 101 decibels, the equivalent sound of a jet taking off; 30 feet away in the alley, it was 79 decibels and at 160 feet away on the roof deck of the Jefferson Row condominiums one street directly north, the noise level was recorded just 7 decibels lower, at 72.

The coalition was formed early this year by Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Abigail Nichols and Sarah Peck, both residents in the 1300 block of 18th Street. Their goal is to address and find solutions, including actively seeking and monitoring enforcement by the city to curb the excessive noise that emanates from many of the nightlife establishments within close proximity of residential and mixed-use areas such as in and around Dupont Circle, 14th Street, the U Street corridor, to name but three.

In addition, they are engaging with club owners to seek their cooperation in complying with the 60-decibel rule. As Peck told The InTowner, “our group has been meeting with the owners of Midtown, Dirty Martini, and Rosebar to bring down the amplified sound coming out of their clubs. We are pleased that these businesses are voluntarily working with us to develop a noise mitigation plan that works for their businesses and that complies with the DC noise control act. We think this approach may be a good model for ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] to follow.”

ABRA’s director, Fred Moosally, was in attendance and  assured the large turnout that he takes noise violations seriously. According to Moosally, beginning on March 13th, the Noise Task Force, which is made up of representatives from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Metropolitan Police Department and ABRA, will conduct increased noise checks. The task force will conduct random noise tests throughout DC nightclubs, including ones in Dupont Circle, on Thursday through Sunday nights. The first offense for an establishment that has a noise level exceeding 60 decibels will be a fine of $1,000.

To understand how far away one can hear sound at the 60-decibel level, this would be no louder than being able to hear a conversation taking place a little over three feet away (absent competing ambient noise).

With respect to the legal noise level limit there was discussion about whether or not the 60-decibel limit is realistic. Not only did representatives from the nightclubs who attended but also even a few residents agreed that the legal limit might be set too low.

“I think the big elephant in the room is that 60 decibels is never going to work,” one resident remarked. “It’s true that two people having a conversation exceeds it, so if we hold that as the standard, we’re not going to make any progress.”

When objections to what was said were voiced, one of the nightclub owners took out a smartphone with a decibel reading app which recorded that with one person speaking into a microphone the decibel level was 55 to 60.

“There should be a task force put together with citizens and promoters and club owners who care,” an owner said. “Everybody cares for the most part…Everybody who is in here who is in the business, we don’t want to disturb you. There has to be a way to be productive.”

While noise continues to be an issue, Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Mike Silverstein –- he also serves as a member of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board –- stated that “the hospitality industry has brought $400 million in city taxes and city revenues this past year; 59,000 people have their jobs tied into that.”

A few seconds later, Silverstein noted, “It is the second biggest industry that we have in this town” – adding, sardonically, “maybe third after corruption.” 

*Ben Lasky, a contributing writer for The InTowner, studied communications and journalism at The American University.