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Courting Salida’s noise ordinance

Brief by Central Staff

Politics – August 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Courting the City’s Noise Ordinance

A band on the patio can annoy the neighbors, and that’s pretty much what happened in downtown Salida on Independence Day weekend.

The band was playing at the Flour of Life, a bakery and bistro, on North F Street, and the neighbors were nearby residents of apartments over storefronts.

One development was a citation, issued by a Salida policeman, against Flour of Life, charging a violation of the city’s Amplified Noise Ordinance. That law says that any electronically amplified sound which can be heard more than 25 feet away from the source — or from a property line — is illegal, unless there’s a permit from the city council.

All previous citations under the law, City Attorney Al Sulzenfuss said, have been issued to individuals with boomboxes or loud car stereos. This is the first one against a business.

Salida Police Chief Darwin Hibbs said that nearby establishments with live music — the Victoria Hotel & Tavern, and the Cornerstone Pub — had occasionally caused complaints, which were resolved just by asking them to turn down the sound.

Another development was a lawsuit filed against the city by Brett Lilly, a Flour owner and an attorney.

He went to district court on July 8, asking for a preliminary injunction to restrain the city from enforcing the ordinance, which he claimed was unconstitutional because it violated First Amendment rights to free expression.

Judge Ken Plotz agreed that there might be a constitutional issue involved, at some point, but did not grant the injunction because injunctions are supposed to prevent irreparable injuries.

Plotz observed that if Flour lost money on account of the ordinance, it could sue to recover damages, so any injuries could be repaired by the processes of law.

Sulzenfuss argued that there was no First Amendment issue, since the city was not trying to regulate content, but was instead protecting its citizens from intrusive sounds.

The third development was one of the longest city council hearings in recent memory on July 13, when citizens and the council discussed the noise ordinance for more than two hours.

Just about everybody agreed that the Amplified Sound Ordinance needed a rewrite, to replace the subjective provisions about what a normal person hears from 25 feet with something more objective, like decibel levels.

A temporary fix was put in place — the mayor will use a sound meter if there are complaints downtown about loud live music, and that information will be used in constructing a new ordinance. Meanwhile, enforcement of the ordinance in that area will be suspended, and Flour of Life will move its bandstand and experiment with some sound barriers. So one lawsuit against the city may be resolved by compromise.

Another suit, filed April 28 by this magazine and its co-publisher, Ed Quillen, and joined by Merle Baranczyk and The Mountain Mail, and Bill Murphy and KVRH Radio, charged the city with violating the Colorado Open Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Law.

District Judge Julie Marshall agreed with us on May 4, and since then, we’ve attempted to negotiate a settlement with the city. The deal: the city agrees to obey the judge and hold hearings about the conduct of elected officials in public, and to pay our attorney fees, and we would drop the suit.

We had hopes that the settlement, which was agreed to by Mayor Ralph Taylor, would be discussed by the council at its July 13 meeting, but the noise discussion took up so much time that the council tabled it.