HARWICH — Selectmen agreed Monday night to establish an ad hoc noise containment committee to develop a policy designed to prevent noise from outdoor entertainment venues in commercial districts from disturbing people living in adjacent residential neighborhoods.
Residents who live in and around Harwich Port are especially concerned about the increased volume of music emanating beyond the business district. Over the past couple of years selectmen and the police department have received complaints from people relating to the noise and hours during which live music is played.
“I feel the residents are angry and we anticipate more calls than last year,” Police Chief David Guillemette told selectmen Monday night.
Bob Nickerson is one of the residents who has stood before selectmen asking the board to get a handle on the noise. Nickerson was before selectmen last month asking the board to form a committee to develop a comprehensive plan to manage noise from outdoor entertainment throughout the town. He told selectmen with the increase in amplified outdoor entertainment, there has been a significant change in Harwich Port over the last several years.
“Much of it has been for the good, but at the same time, unfortunately, the increased noise has negatively impacted the lives of many nearby residents,” Nickerson said last month. “Regrettably, little if any long-range planning has been done to preserve the longstanding peaceful character in Harwich and the residents’ right to quiet in their own homes.”
On Monday night, Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine put forward a charge for a seven-member committee made up of three members of the business community, four residents at large and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cyndi Williams.
“In recent years, Harwich and, specifically the village of Harwich Port, have enjoyed increasing restaurant activity to the benefit of town residents and vacationing tourists. Unfortunately this increased activity has increased noise levels to the discomfort of nearby residents. The sound levels may be exacerbated when restaurants utilize outdoor music. As excessive noise can be an issue throughout Harwich, a uniform, consistent, compromise noise policy is sought through a dialog with impacted parties,” the charge states.
The committee will be charged with obtaining information from restaurants, nearby residents and other town residents to understand the issues, including a thorough review and understanding of the requirements currently in place in the Harwich bylaws, such as the definition of “audible noise.”
The charge encourages discussion early so everyone understands the requirements from all sides—businesses, residences, police and fire departments—so it is clearly defined and the establishments and residents understand the limits of sound levels and the police can have uniform enforcement. Selectmen are looking for a report from the committee by next March; the committee will remain in place through December 2020.
In last month’s session, Pleasant Street resident Robert Cohn said he had to call the police 21 times last year. He said he lives in the “center of the acoustics zone in Harwich Port. It is an outrageous position to be put in, having to make those calls, but it’s the only way to spend time outside at his home.”
“We’re given two bad choices,” Cohn said. “It’s put up with the noise or call the police.”
“We’re hard-pressed to think of any other community on the Cape, or even in the Commonwealth, that has such a density of outdoor entertainment as currently exists in Harwich Port so close to residential areas and with a variety of acoustic challenges,” Nickerson said.
Guillemette said he has spoken with residents and business owners and reached out to other police chiefs across the Cape, but not many communities have the same problem, a mix of residents and businesses in the same small area. Guillemette said he’d like to see a form of self-policing. The police department provided a training session for these establishments just before Memorial Day.
In March, Bay View Road resident George Rockwood wrote a letter to selectmen urging compliance with the noise ordinance, stating the music can clearly be heard at his house.
“People buy houses in this area looking, of course, for summertime peace and quiet, not because they want more intense publicly-sponsored entertainment (noise),” he wrote. “I agree with many of my neighbors that the 10 p.m. curfew on these music performances allows more than enough time for ‘partying’ in the middle of town.”
“We want Harwich to thrive, and we care about the well-being of its businesses and the community as a whole. Too often though, our own well-being has been neglected,” Nickerson said.
“I’m a huge supporter of the music, it’s changed the character of the town and that’s a good thing,” Harwich Port resident Walter Mason told selectmen Monday night.
“I can agree with the goal, but I don’t want to sweep businesses under the rug,” Taylor Powell of Perks said. “The growth of the town can be correlated to the music. You didn’t have parking problems beforehand. People are bypassing Chatham and coming to Harwich.”
Selectman Stephen Ford urged a quick response by selectmen in naming members to the committee. Candidates interested in serving must apply to the board of selectmen and be interviewed by the board’s interview subcommittee.
Selectman Donald Howell estimated it will take four to six weeks to get the committee in place.