Turn down the volume. The city of Oxford’s newly approved sound ordinance amendment sets limits for indoor and outdoor music.
The Oxford Board of Aldermen approved the ordinance last week, which addresses businesses with outdoor areas, as well as live and recorded music played indoors.
While amplified music was primarily used during special events, such as the Double Decker Arts Festival, a handful of restaurants/bars have opened outdoor venues in the last year.
Under the ordinance amendment, businesses with unenclosed or outdoor areas such as a patio, rooftop or yard should not operate sound equipment or produce any sound in excess of 70 decibels or 80 dBc (base vibrations) between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m.
A business playing live or recorded music indoors within the Historic Urban Center – the downtown Square – should not exceed 85 decibels and 95 dBc between 10 a.m. and 1 a.m., as measured at the adjacent public street or curb but at least 5 feet from the building or in excess of 65 decibels and 75 dBc from 1 a.m. and 10 a.m.
For businesses in commercial zones outside the Square, the sound is limited to 70 decibels/80 dBc between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m., as measured at the adjacent public street curb or at a minimum of 5 feet from the building facade. Between 11 p.m. and 10 a.m. sound is limited to 65 decibels/75 dBc.
Sound in residential areas should not exceed 65 decibels/75 dBc 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/55 dBc between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. and then 35 decibels/45 dBc between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.
The new sound ordinance replaces the previous requirement that no amplified sound is allowed outdoors inside the city limits. That ordinance appeared to have not been strictly enforced.
An earlier version of the new ordinance had the mandatory sound level for outdoor music at 85 decibels. City officials decided that was too high.
Alderman Rick Addy recalled a time he stood next to a police officer at an establishment playing live music. He said when the sound was above 70 decibels, he could not hear the officer’s radio even though they were standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
“That’s a safety issue,” Addy said.
The Board has fielded complaints from business owners who think that 70 decibels is too low and from local residents who live in condominiums on the Square who feel 70 is still too high.
Mayor Robyn Tannehill said the ordinance is a “work in progress.”
“If we don’t get it right, we’ll change it,” she said. “There will still be issues we will have to work out.”
City officials and staff will work with businesses on ways to mitigate sound and keep it from bouncing off building walls and in alleys.
Read the entire ordinance on the city’s website here.