HARWICH — Following high-profile noise complaints from indoor and outdoor music and gatherings during the several years, selectmen are sending a clear message that the town’s noise bylaw will be strictly enforced this summer.
Outdoor entertainment at establishments in the commercial district in Harwich Port has caused conflicts in the compact residential neighborhoods surrounding the village. Noise complaints are often placed with the police department, and selectmen and the town administration often receive emails and phone calls from residents registering complaints. The town formed an ad hoc noise containment committee to examine ways of mitigating noise problems, but recommendations have yet to be digested by the board.
Selectmen met last week with Police Chief David Guillemette to discuss noise issues and plans for enforcement of the noise bylaw by his department as the season approaches. This was the first of many upcoming discussions on the noise bylaw, said Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said, noting the need to review the ad hoc committee recommendations and establish a scale for punishment for infractions.
“This board needs to set a direction in general on what’s going to happen,” he said. “The message is being sent by selectmen we want to enforce the noise bylaw.”
Selectman Donald Howell requested more documentation from the police department when noise complaints are registered. Often police go to establishments and discuss the issue with the owners, but if there is no citation, the incident does not get recorded, he said.
“There are a number of chronic violators and there needs to be a paper trail. It allows us to enforce things that need to be enforced,” Howell said.
“Its painfully obvious we need to do something here for the neighbors who can’t sleep,” said Selectman Mary Anderson. “I think we need to get a little strict.”
Guillemette said it has been very frustrating to deal with this issue. With the pandemic, provisions were put in place for more outside activity at restaurants, which added a new component in the past year, he said.
Officers spend a lot of time visiting establishments, and some of the time there is no noise “plainly audible,” as stated in the bylaw. Guillemette wanted to know if citations written for noise bylaw violations should be brought to the board; he said he inquired at other police departments on the Cape and none do it that way.
That's exactly what he had in mind, Howell said. “There is no way for us to enforce anything if there is no record. If they are hearing something there should be something written. It’s up to us to determine how it gets escalated. Maybe the first time we issue a warning, but unless we get something solid, there is nothing to act on. The establishments continue to say ‘there was no citation written to us, so there is nothing to act on’.”
A log entry and the officer’s observations and findings are something to act on, Guillemette said. But from this point forward, each time police deal with a drinking establishment, there will be a report written, he said.
There are also four provisions in the liquor license regulations relating to noise for which an establishment can be held in violation and subject to discipline, said Powers. Those provisions are based on noise caused by indoor and outdoor entertainment, noise from a line of patrons seeking to enter an establishment, and any noise as it relates to overall management of the establishment.
A three-page policy statement was issued to officers as they gear up for the busy summer months, said Guillemette. He informed supervisory staff to conduct intense reviews of the log for issues that impact licensees and told them that documentation will be sent to selectmen. The “plainly audible” definition in the noise bylaw, which refers to any sound detected above routine ambient background noise at 150 feet from the source, will be considered a violation of the bylaw, he said, adding that musicians and their impacts on license violations will also be documented and sent to selectmen for review.
A noise complaint confirmed after 10 p.m. is a clear violation of the bylaw, Guillemette said. He is urging officers to try to speak with reporting parties and determine if they are 150 feet away from a noise source.
Patrons remaining on premises 15 minutes after closing time (1:15 a.m.) will be considered a violation of the liquor license, he said.
Officers will no longer issue verbal or written warnings for violations as all documentation will be sent to the board of selectmen.
“It’s a shame we’ve gotten here, but we are here,” said MacAskill. “The previous board was very pro-business and it’s been well received by a lot of people. It’s unfortunate it’s been abused. We have no option but to put these regulations in place.”