City Council adopts noise ordinance on 5-2 vote

By LAURA JAMESON

ljameson@lockhaven.com

LOCK HAVEN — The city of Lock Haven officially has its first ever noise ordinance.

The ordinance, which has gone through some changes since it was first brought to council on March 4, was adopted on a 5-2 vote Monday night.

And it didn’t come without questions, comments and concerns from local business owners.

Designed to give city police officers the ability to respond to a disturbance without the need of a complaint from a resident, the ordinance has gone through multiple changes and seen two first readings.

The most recent change was the addition of “Section 3. Prohibited Conduct.”

This section allows the playing of amplified sound or musical instruments at a restaurant, bar, or private club which are plainly audible at a distance of 250 feet beyond the property line from which the sound is generated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.

After 11 p.m. the distance would be reduced to 0 feet from the property line, City Manager Gregory Wilson said.

“It’s a pretty good distance away from a facility that would be deemed under this ordinance as reasonable,” he said about the 250 feet.

The addition was advertised in The Express for two weeks before the Monday’s meeting, Wilson said.

Local business owners voiced their concerns about how the ordinance will affect their business.

Steve Gundy, owner of Hangar 9 Restaurant & Lounge on Bellefonte Avenue, and Nicholas Hawrylchak, owner of the Broken Axe Brewhouse on East Bald Eagle Street, spoke.

“Some of the wording to it has us concerned,” Gundy said.

Both Gundy and Hawrylchak, as well as other business owners, are concerned about the definition of what constitutes a noise violation and how the ordinance might affect night life in the city.

“A large portion of our business is the night life,” Gundy said. “We hate to see something that’s a positive thing in town be thrown away because of an ordinance.”

Son’s of Italy President Dan Vilello spoke on behalf of the organization’s 15 boards members and nearly 2,000 members.

“We believe it (the noise ordinance) not only helps clubs and bars, it brings business into the community,” Vilello said. “Instead of leaving Lock Haven to go to Williamsport or State College to listen to outdoor music they can do it in Lock Haven.”

Vilello referenced downtown Williamsport where he works. He’s noticed the change in the community there in the past 15 years since they began to allow outdoor music.

“It’s splendid… I think that can happen in Lock Haven,” he continued. “I believe supporting the ordinance is a very proactive way for this council to say ‘yeah we’re going to move forward and help our business to grow.'”

Vilello said he trusts the discretion of the city’s police officers.

“If we are having an unreasonable noise 250 feet away from our doors I would expect a police officer to come knock on my door and ask us to please turn it down,” he said. “You can take care of it right there on the spot instead of having (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) PLCB cite you as a nuisance club.”

Vilello also pointed out how the ordinance is not set in stone.

“An ordinance can be changed at any time… so if we do this and a year after we have the PLCB’s approval or eight months you find out that it’s not workable or the police are giving you problems or you think something needs to be changed then we look at it,” he said. “It’s just a simple re-look at the ordinance.”

Gundy and Hawrylchak were still concerned about the time frame for restrictions.

“11 p.m. is an hour into our musical acts, and for the Son’s of Italy, I guess it’s different. That’s probably where their’s is ending,” Gundy said. “I guess what works for them doesn’t work for us.”

Gundy said he’s concerned about the cut off time from 250 feet away from the property line to zero feet after 11 p.m..

Hawrylchak agreed and also voiced his concern for an officer possibly issuing an unfair fine.

“With respect to the chief’s police force, I’m not saying that immediately we’re going to have an issue, but having something on the books that could in the future… could rack up a pretty hefty bunch of fines for a lot of us,” he said.

Chief of Police Kristin Smith explained that officers use discretion all the time throughout their job.

“We’re talking a lot about officer discretion here and the majority of our job is officer discretion. We’re talking about much more serious issues than noise violations that we trust our officers to determine if something is unreasonable or not,” she said.

She went on to give examples such as an officer citing someone for public drunkenness.

“We arrest people for public drunkenness. That’s our discretion on whether they’re too drunk to care for themselves in public,” she said.

She continued, saying that although a noise ordinance hasn’t been in place, officers still use their own judgement on whether a noise complaint is valid or not.

“There are a lot of things that are up to our discretion and if there were an issue I would expect anyone who has knowledge of that to come to me directly and I would address that immediately,” she said.

She added that if someone feels they’ve been cited wrongfully they can take it before a district judge and plead their case.

“And the officer has to articulate why they said it was unreasonable,” she said. “I trust that our officers can do our job.”

Councilman Joel Long, who voted against adopting the ordinance, said his vote did not reflect his feelings about the city’s police officers.

“In no way has my vote been a statement to our police force. I think we have a great staff and I think we have a great chief,” he said.

Both Long and Councilman Bill Mincer, who also voted against the adoption, believe some form of decibel meter reading should be put in place to offer a better measurement for residents.

“It has nothing to do with lack of competence in our police force, I just think we need to have the best ordinance in place as possible,” he said. “I absolutely agree with all the reasons for having an ordinance but if we’re going to do it we should do it right.”

“It also lets our citizens know… what a violation constitutes,” Mincer said. “Two different people… could hear two completely different things. I like the addition of the 250 feet for the bars and clubs. I think that’s a great addition, but I think we need a measurable criteria to determine what actually is a violation like a decibel meter.”

The ordinance was adopted through a motion made by councilman Richard Conklin and seconded by councilman Richard Morris.

“I’m glad that it’s going to be there,” Long said. “I hope we don’t just let it that way, that we continue to look at this and make adjustments.”

All members of council were present for Monday night’s meeting.

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