How loud is too loud?
That is the question the Oxford Board of Aldermen and city staff members are trying to answer while considering an updated Sound Ordinance for the city.
On Tuesday, the first reading of the ordinance took place during the Board’s regular meeting. A second reading, and public hearing, is planned for 5 p.m. on Feb. 16 at City Hall.
Currently, the city’s ordinance says no amplified sound is allowed outdoors, which the Board and Mayor Robyn Tannehill admitted is not enforced and that the Board has approved several requests from event organizers in the past asking for amplified sound at their events.
“Our ordinance says you can’t have amplified sound outdoors, and we’re clearly OK with it,” Tannehill said.
The proposed ordinance limits sound indoors, for commercial businesses, to 85 decibels between 10 a.m. and 1 a.m., as measured at the adjacent public street curb or at a minimum of 5-feet from the building facade. Between 1 a.m. and 10 a.m., the sound should not be plainly audible at the property line or from the adjacent public street curb.
A business with an unenclosed area or outdoor area, such as a patio, rooftop, yard, or other areas should not operate sound equipment or produce any other sound in excess of 85 decibels between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Sunday – Thursday, and 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. A business with an unenclosed or outdoor area for patrons may request a permit to extend the hours to 1 a.m.; however, the maximum decibel would be 70 for the extended hours, and live music must end at 11 p.m.
Sound in residential areas should not exceed 70 decibels between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. and should not be plainly audible between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. as measured at the property line of the residence or from the public street curb.
Multi-unit residential areas would be restricted to 45 decibels between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. and then 35 decibels between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.
The decibel limit of 85 came about after a sound expert measured current sound levels on the Square and since there have been no recent complaints about sound, it was deemed an acceptable level of sound. Some of the Board members visited a local restaurant recently to hear first-hand what 85 decibels sound like when inside and then when standing outside.
Aldermen John Morgan questioned why the sound was limited to 70 decibels for the extended permit time when it was being measured the same as indoor sound at 85 decibels, from the same distance.
“Sound is sound,” he said.
The aldermen agreed to meet again at an outdoor establishment to hear what 85 decibels sounds like compared to the 70 decibels from the same measurement point.
The proposed ordinance also addresses construction sounds, barking and other animal noises, which are in the current sound ordinance.
Click here to view the entire proposed ordinance, which is subject to change pending approval by the Board.