• July 15, 2019

Noise ordinance passes after emotional debate - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Noise ordinance passes after emotional debate

Citizens raise concerns about ADA, amplifiers for Boardwalk buskers

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Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2019 9:38 am

OCEAN CITY – After an emotionally charged meeting April 25, council approved an ordinance aiming to quiet performers and musicians on the Boardwalk. 

The new ordinance states that sound produced by an entertainer or group of entertainers shall not be audible 30 feet from the Boardwalk railing where the entertainer is performing. 

Electronic instruments – such as a keyboards – are permitted, provided the sound is not audible 30 feet from the railing where the entertainers are, according to the ordinance, which prohibits external amplification. Entertainers still must have licenses from the city in order to perform in public on the Boardwalk.  

City solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said the ordinance strikes a balance between freedom of expression and complaints from the public and business owners over the volume of some performances. 

“Not everyone who’s up there is performing music,” McCrosson said. “Some people are doing things that some of the passers-by don’t consider to be artistic but there’s a right to freedom of expression and we’re trying to strikes a balance between their rights and protecting the concerns of the people who have to work across from them…. The one concern that we can address is how loud some of the entertainers are. It’s very difficult in the environment of the Boardwalk to control the sound level. We tried to strike an objective line of how far away the music can be heard.”

McCrosson said if the entertainers used amplification, it made complying with the 30-foot sound restriction “difficult.” 

McCrosson said although the ordinance essentially eliminates electronic instruments, it was changed to accommodate electric keyboards after a young performer told council the old ordinance would restrict him from performing. 

She noted the ordinance was changed based on his comments to council. 

McCrosson said the ordinance prohibits electric guitars because acoustic guitars can be played.

The city will revisit the ordinance following the summer to gauge if it is successful. 

Chris Leibrandt, owner of Grass Roots Music Store in Ocean City, said the ordinance prohibiting amplification is “redundant” because the city already has a law restricting noise on the Boardwalk to 30 feet. 

Leibrandt said he has several students who play on the Boardwalk and their parents monitor their activities and make sure they comply with the existing 30-foot sound rule. 

He showed a photo of one of his students – Robbie – who is disabled and uses a wheelchair. Leibrandt aid Robbie plays a specially-modified electric guitar. 

“Like the keyboard you’re permitting to be amplified, the electric guitar must also be amplified or silent,” Leibrandt said. “To exclude Robbie from playing I wonder if that’s any kind of a problem…. He’s planning to perform on the Boardwalk this summer. He’s showing up with his guitar and his amplifier. Is it going to be a problem when the police unplug him?”

Leibrandt said the ordinance could potentially violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the city permits keyboards but not amplification for his student’s electric guitar. 

 “What about the person with the disabled voice who needs to be amplified to sing properly as to not damage their vocal chords and are going to need to show up with a microphone and a little vocal mic?” Leibrandt said. 

Musician William Link called electric guitars and acoustic guitars “different animals.” 

“The nuances in sound that come from an electric guitar cannot be made acoustically. It’s impossible. You cannot do it,” Link said. 

Link said electronic decibel readers measure sound and cost roughly $18.99 to $24.99. He suggested police carry the decibel readers on the Boardwalk and use them to see if musicians are complying with the city’s ordinance. 

“The only fair way to do it with is with decibel readers. Stand 30 feet away figure out where the decibel should be, make it your benchmark,” Link said. “The law should not be subjective; it should be objective.”

Resident Georgina Shanley said she received an email from an American Civil Liberties Union attorney over the ordinance.

Shanley said the change is “pulling the plug” on instruments. 

Shanley said while she supports the Boardwalk merchants, she noted some businesses, including miniature golf courses, bombard the Boardwalk with loud music and noise. She called for equal enforcement to both merchants and performers. 

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Let the merchants be equal to the entertainers. If there’s a certain decibel level that’s allowed during those days and those hours, don’t do selective enforcement,” Shanley said. “Make it across the board for entertainers the same decibel level for the merchants that are allowed to have all of this sound and noise on the Boardwalk.”

Councilman Bob Barr, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said when he buys tickets to a sporting event for wheelchair accessibility, he must provide a letter from a physician documenting his disability. 

Barr asked if the city could make an exception to performers who have legitimate disabilities and require special amplification for their instruments. 

 “That doesn’t mean that everybody can come up there and say that they have a disability. You have to prove that you actually have one,” Barr said.

Councilman Keith Hartzell said he objected to police carrying decibel readers and monitoring noise levels. 

 “The number one issue on our Boardwalk is to keep our children safe,” Hartzell said. “The issue of the safety of this town is paramount.” 

Barr said he trusts city staff to do the right thing, but added that someone able-bodied could say they were disabled to get a performing permit. 

 “It’s not that I don’t trust our city to do the right thing. What I don’t want to do is put our police in a position to have to determine who is disabled and who isn’t,” Barr said. “You would have to bring documentation from a physician that says this is your disability, this is why you need this piece of equipment, so you know that it’s really a legitimate use. What I don’t want to do is put the everyday Joe in the position of making that determination and have a few bad apples ruin it for everybody and everybody takes advantage of it.”

McCrosson said Barr’s proposal would be a major change to the ordinance. Council did not take up Barr’s suggestion. 

Mayor Jay Gillian promised the city would take care of disabled people by providing them with the appropriate equipment they use for performances. He said the ordinance is designed to keep “obnoxious” performers from blasting terrible music and baiting the city into a fight when asked to lower the volume. 

“The issue is the one or two percent that have no talent,” Gillian said. “The problem is the one of two percent who are taking advantage of the situation.”

Gillian said First Amendment rights lawyers are waiting to “see what we can do to mess up to get their names in the paper. We don’t want any of that. All we want to do is figure out a way to make this work.” 

He said the city should be “careful” with what is restricts and allows. 

“We can legislate all you want and the lawyers will come in and this is what Dottie (McCrosson) is trying to help the taxpayers from big lawsuits and money and spending, because that seems like what everyone wants to do: just sue the hell out of the city,” Gillian said. “My job here as mayor is to keep us out of court.” 

Gillian noted a majority of guests he’s spoken with don’t like the independent entertainers.

 “I’ve had more people over the last couple summers say ‘Please, this isn’t Disney. What are you doing?’” Gillian said.  

When the original Boardwalk entertainer ordinance was proposed years ago, Gillian suggested placing the entertainers on the Boardwalk from Fifth to Sixth streets but received complaints the buskers wouldn’t make money because the crowds dwindle along that stretch of the Boardwalk. 

“It had nothing to do with expression of entertainment. You can’t make money from Fifth to Sixth streets. Nobody gave us a chance to figure out how cool that could be,” Gillian said. 

Councilman Michael DeVlieger said the city accommodates those with legitimate disabilities, even musicians with modified instruments. 

“The day we don’t accommodate somebody with a legitimate ADA challenge I’ll be the first to say we should change this immediately,” DeVlieger said. 

DeVlieger noted that decibel monitors detect and measure noise closest to them, not noise at a distance. 

Councilwoman Karen Bergman said she caters beach weddings in front of the Boardwalk and experienced the loud noise level firsthand.  

“There’s a big portion of people out there where the administration gets complaints on the music on the volume of it,” Bergman said. “I do weddings on the beach. I’m down there every Saturday and there’s music that disrupts my weddings and it not only comes from the performers, it comes from the golf courses, it comes from all different places but I live with it because it’s the Boardwalk and you have a wedding on the beach right in front of the boardwalk and you get what you get.”

Bergman said the Boardwalk merchants have worked with the city for over a year on the ordinance. 

“They pay an exorbitant amount of rent to make money and their season is very short and to have entertainers come up here and blast their area and make money and not pay any rent or anything, there has to be some form of balance,” Bergman said.

Councilman Tony Wilson said the city should reconsider creating a Fifth to Sixth street entertainment district for Boardwalk musicians. Wilson also suggested permit fees from the entertainers should be used to purchase decibel meters and readers. 

“We want to make sure the police do what police do and that’s not going around like Wile E. Coyote with a speedometer. It doesn’t make sense,” Wilson said. 

Council adopted the ordinance 6-0. Councilman Pete Madden was not present to vote. 

Bryan Woolbert, a young musician from Egg Harbor Township, asked council in March if his electronic keyboard would be excluded. Woolbert said he has a permit from the city for performances, said he’s played music on the Boardwalk for three years.  

Woolbert, who is legally blind, thanked city council for their work on the ordinance and gave Gillian two CDs of his original music. 

 “I do feel that it is an important topic not only because it pertains to me but because it does pertain to an art form and many art forms for that matter,” Woolbert said. “I hope that the balance continues to get closer and closer to awesome and it goes really well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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