What’s More Annoying Than Noise? Losing Jobs

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Newport’s Noise Ordinance Is Destroying Our Economy And Trampling Our Freedoms.

Depending on who you talk to, the Newport Harbor Corp just sold the Newport Yachting Center because city noise ordinances have made a business operation responsible for bringing ~$11 million a year to Newport unacceptably risky…or because the Newport Harbor Group decided to put their money and efforts into other ventures (because city noise ordinances had made operating the Newport Yachting Center unacceptably risky).

To say that the  announcement that the Newport Yachting Center is closing has come as a shock would be an understatement. For many, the events held at the venue were a big part of why they chose to live in the community. For Newporters, the Yachting Center is a constant presence. Any day an event was held, we didn’t even have be in attendance to see people having a good time. Our Facebook feed would be full of pics of our friends enjoying great music or a whole lot of laughs (or at least showing off that they were in the hottest spot in Newport).

Newport’s Noise Ordinance

We don’t know how to put this, but Newport’s noise ordinance is…well…a tad obtuse. Here’s the intro…

It is the declared policy of the City of Newport to promote an environment free from excessive noise that degrades the quality of life of the city and its residents. No person shall make any such noise that creates a noise disturbance. A noise disturbance consists of any sound which exceeds decibel levels established by ordinance; the making, creating or permitting of any unreasonably loud, disturbing or unnecessary noise; the making, creating or permitting of any noise of such character, intensity or duration as to be detrimental to the life, health, or welfare of any individual, or which either steadily or intermittently annoys, disturbs, injures, or endangers the comfort, repose, peace or safety of any individual. (The rest can be found at the bottom of this page.)

So any noise that anyone finds annoying is illegal? If only we’d known this about 8 months ago when this one girl at Pour Judgment was cackling like it was going out of style, we’d have had her arrested. (Yes, yes…we understand the real statutes are more specific and have a bunch of decibels and times, but that’s not really that comforting.)

The idea that any “unnecessary” noise that “annoys” the “comfort” of “any individual” lends an awful lot of power to anyone who wants to declare themselves annoyed.

In this case of the Yachting Center, the “annoyed” used that power to remove $11.3 million from of the city’s economy.

This Shouldn’t Be A Surprise

A quick trip through our own memory banks provided a whole bunch of reminders of how bizarre our own experiences with Newport noise enforcement have been over the years.

About 6 years back, I was hanging out with a group of Bulgarians who were working in town over the summer. It was 6 or 7pm and there were about 8 of us in a second floor apartment…talking. Just talking. Suddenly, two Newport Police officers stroll in, investigating a noise complaint. Once they realized what the situation actually was, they seemed a bit embarrassed that they’d been called, in the early evening, because someone wanted a little less conversation in their neighborhood.

The question arises…who was this individual who called in the complaint? Did they suffer from hyperacusis…or did they just have something against the city’s Eastern European imports? If they’re looking for quiet, why are they living in Newport and not Middletown, Portsmouth, Jamestown, Tiverton, Little Compton or any of the other Rhode Island communities that aren’t cities?

For Those Of You Who Need A Heads-Up…

Downtown Newport can be a noisy place, especially if you’re within about a block of Broadway (starting about Gould Street) through Thames (to about Narragansett) and especially on weekend evenings from Memorial Day through Labor Day, a period we locals call “The Season”.

It can be especially noisy around Waite’s Wharf on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights around 1:15am, when the The Deck, Dockside, On The Docks and O’Brien’s Pub. The dull roar can be easily heard anywhere in a 2 block radius. It is probably the noisiest place to be in Newport in the summer. Which is precisely why a Navy pilot we know rented an apartment there.

Now, despite what you may have heard about naval aviators, most of them aren’t the quiet introverts that they’re made out to be in popular culture. Some of them even consume alcohol on occasion, a few might even talk to women (hell, some of them even ARE women) and most of them spend a lot of time on the lookout for something called “fun”. They also have something called “situational awareness” where they need to know what’s going on in their surroundings, otherwise they end up dead.

When picking out a place to live, our fellow looked around at two bars, a restaurant and a nightclub within about 100 yards, applied his situational awareness and figured that was exactly where he wanted to be for the duration of his time in our city.

Fast-forward to Labor Day a couple years back and this guy decides to have a party on his roof deck in the afternoon. Just about 20 30-something year olds educated professionals drinking beers and hanging out, listening to a DJ spin on a single speaker on the unofficial last day of summer. First noise complaint? ~2pm. Fine, turn down the volume and that should be the end of that. Last time we looked, it was legal to have a cookout within Newport city limits.

At around 5pm, we learned otherwise when the cops returned, shut down the party and asked, in a fashion we can only assume was intended rhetorically, “What if your mother lived next door?”. I’d like to think that most mothers are rational-decision makers when it comes to choosing where to live, so if she had chosen to live on a wharf that features two bars, a restaurant and a nightclub, we’d expect her tolerance for noise to be higher than most. If we were having people over for a Labor Day cookout next door to where she lives, we’d also have expected her to have accepted our invitation and joined us.

Moving Forward

Newport does need a noise ordinance. We need a means to prevent death metal bands holding practice at 3am and other excesses. What we don’t need is every individual resident having a veto on any activity that creates sound at any time of day. It creates a regulatory climate that is just too arbitrary for business to operate under and empowers the least-tolerant members of our community.

Tristan Pinnock, Blast Business Correspondent

Tristan's just this guy, ya know?