Selectmen Examine Exempting Commercial District From Noise Bylaw

By: William F. Galvin


HARWICH — The sound of music will come under scrutiny from the board of selectmen as they consider adjustments to the town's noise bylaw, including removing commercial districts, or liquor establishments, from the measure.

Noise from music coming from liquor establishments in Harwich Port and filtering into residential neighborhoods has become a growing concern, especially with the increase in outdoors venues, which many say is helping drive economic growth in the village.

Selectman Michael MacAskill asked that the board revisit the noise bylaw issue based on comments made by Perk Coffee Shop and Beer Garden owner Taylor Powell about curfew timing and the type of entertainment allowed.

“Our regulations didn't allow him to have a Red Sox game playing,” MacAskill said.

He also noted complications associated with police department enforcement of noise complaints. The board, he said, needs to look at the regulations and “give these businesses as much relief as we can while being sympathetic to the homeowner.”

MacAskill said the changes in Harwich Port that have allowed outside entertainment have made the village a “destination location” and he wants to keep that going. Perks only has an outdoor license and Powell was looking to play music softly. MacAskill said with an entertainment curfew of 10 p.m., no one would stay in the bar afterward.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark said there are concerns about music after 10 p.m. and the police department having to enforce the restriction. He said there can be ways of making it easier for the department. There are towns that exempt the commercial district from the noise bylaw and allow the board of selectmen to have regulatory control through licensing. Clark said it might make sense to give the selectmen regulatory jurisdiction, but it would require a bylaw change.

“We had two hearings last summer and it really depends on the direction of the wind,” MacAskill said of responding officers determining if there is a noise violation based on the 150-foot distance limit contained in the bylaw.

Selectman Ed McManus said people usually buy a house in a commercial district because they like the activity. If the town gets overly strict when enforcing this kind of commercial activity, it could have an impact on why they moved there.

Selectman Donald Howell said everyone has the right to quiet in the privacy of their home. But the activities are part of what is driving their property values. New condominiums in Harwich Port sell for $1 million, he noted, adding that wouldn't have happened 10 to 15 years ago. It took a generation for Dennisport to recover from the economic impact of the Patriot Square development, he said.

“It's hard to bring a district back, but we've got one doing well,” Howell said. “You can't do it on the back of businesses without creating a ghost town.”

“There's no way you can make everybody happy. We live that every day,” Police Chief David Guillemette admitted.

He said the issue can be addressed by targeting bylaw changes to impact establishments licensed under Chapter 138 liquor licensing. Guillemette said he came from a community where they carved out these establishments.

The department had the highest number of noise complaints ever from May 1 to Oct. 1 this year, he said. In 2015, there were nine complaints; 2016, 25 complaints; and 54 complaints this year. Twenty-one complaints came from the same location, but that doesn't change their necessity to respond.

Guillemette said he has been reaching out to departments across the state and examining provisions that use decibel readings. He admitted the 150-foot demarcation line for hearing music can be subjective depending upon the officer. He suggested a decibel reading might be more objective.

“I've been in Harwich Port and I don't think we've created a rock show down there,” MacAskill said. “I do want these businesses to survive.”

“The whole problem is outside entertainment, since then we've seen the complaints climb,” Guillemette said.

MacAskill said he has heard a lot from families that the activities in Harwich Port keep people in town and not traveling to hear music. He said a lot of people are embracing it.

“It's a vibrant business community and they have been trying to comply with the rules,” Clark added.

“I've been getting the same type of feedback,” Board of Selectmen Chair Julie Kavanagh said. “There are great accolades for Harwich Port, even from people in Chatham. I agree it's great for the business community.”

Clark said he will come back with proposed bylaw changes. Howell stressed there is not a lot of time before the annual town meeting warrant closes, but something could be prepared for a special town meeting.