BANGOR, Maine — A city subcommittee on Tuesday moved forward a recommendation to next week’s City Council meeting that would update an ordinance designed to cut down on noise coming from inside nightclubs, bars or restaurants.
The recommendation would add a provision to Chapter 194 of the city’s code that reads: “Owners of a nightclub, dance hall or disco have an obligation to prevent their patrons on their property from causing noise which causes discomfit or annoyance to a reasonable person residing in the vicinity of the nightclub, dance hall or disco.”
In a narrow 3-2 vote, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee did not support further amending the city ordinance to make establishments responsible for noise that originates from outside those businesses.
Councilor Hal Wheeler, who initiated the recommendation, said if the city were to hold business owners accountable for outside noise, it would create a clear disincentive to locate establishments in Bangor.
“This would go too far,” he said, adding that residents understand that living downtown brings with it certain inevitable circumstances.
Councilor Richard Stone, who first brought the idea of a noise ordinance to city staff more than a year ago after a rash of complaints from downtown residents, strongly disagreed.
“I don’t see anything wrong with adding another tool to our toolbox,” he said.
Tuesday’s discussion was the latest in a series of talks among city staff and councilors that have attempted to mitigate noise downtown, particularly as more and more people choose to live there. Most councilors agreed that something should be done to give police officers more power to enforce noise ordinances, but they also said a large gray area exists.
“What recourse does an owner have once patrons spill out onto the street?” Councilor Susan Hawes asked.
Police Chief Ron Gastia admitted that even if the city changes its ordinance to make business owners more responsible for noise, he still has the same number of officers patrolling.
“I don’t see this ordinance changing the amount of calls we get,” he said. “It’s how we’re able to respond once we get there. It’s a balancing act out there.”
Peter Ramsey, who has lived on Main Street downtown for nearly 20 years, said the outside noise is obnoxious at times, but he didn’t think adding a new law would make a difference.
John Parcale, who owns a Franklin Street building that houses Benjamin’s nightclub, said he’s concerned about any ordinance change that would affect his business.
“Bangor’s not the Wild, Wild West, nor is it Disneyland,” he said. “It’s probably somewhere in between.”
The close vote at Tuesday’s meeting suggests that the matter will be hotly debated again at the City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 9.
It’s still possible that councilors could pass an ordinance that differs from the recommendation of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, although it’s unlikely.
Councilor David Nealley advocated a more practical solution of increasing patrols in areas that prompt the most concerns.
“I believe it’s our obligation to enforce laws, but I don’t believe passing new laws is going to change the scenario,” he said.