Vex Harrow
Posted: August 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm
Subject: Tempe Turns Down the Noise on Mill Avenue with Amplified Sound Ban

mill-ave-signMill Ave may become a quieter place this week after the Tempe City Council authorized a program to ban amplified music/speech on the Ave and enforce permits for people who want to use it. The program is a pilot and will take effect shortly, and will last until December 2012.

The Tempe City Council recently authorized a pilot program to control noise in downtown Tempe and determine the impacts of various noise sources. Starting this week, no amplified sound or other excessive noise will be permitted without the issuance of a Special Events Permit within the public rights-of-way in the Mill Avenue District.

The city is selling the project to residents and Mill goers with some piss-poor rhetoric that they could have spun better if they’d only listened to the sorts of problems that people actually have with amplification on the Ave.

The problem hasn’t just been musicians, of course, it’s also been street preachers who bring their own amplification to shout at the masses (and some used to shout into bars and open air restaurants.) For a while there was a preacher named Shawn Holes whose sound setup was so abusively loud that it would have caused inner ear damage to people standing too close.

The boundaries for this area are College Avenue to Farmer Avenue, University Drive to the center of Town Lake (North.) Residential developments within this area include Hayden Square, Edgewater and Bridgeview at Hayden Ferry Lakeside, Orchid House, West 6, Regatta Pointe and others. About 1,500 people live in this area. At least another 1,000 people are expected to live in downtown Tempe in the near future as developments such as The Hub and Villas at Southbank open.

“This is the next step in the coexistence of an entertainment district and a residential area,” said Nancy Hormann, president of the Downtown Tempe Community.

Musicians are still welcome to play on Mill Avenue, but they need to perform acoustically.

And it’s true, there’s a few musicians, such as Papa Soul, who have sound systems set so loud that they’re painful to walk past on the sidewalk.

Residents of the nearby condominiums isn’t a good reason for an amplification ban. Why not simply implement thoughtful noise regulations that require people to get a cheap license to use amplification where they agree not to raise their equipment above a pre-set decibel level? Certainly the city could make a program to cheaply license, teach people how to use the equipment (or deliver a simple FAQ on a piece of paper) and then have the police spot check to determine if they’re in violation.

After all, having encountered the abrasively loud street preachers it’s obvious when a sound system is beyond an acceptable and healthy sound limit.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the assessment that the reason why the noise ordinance is being put in place. The claim is that people live too close to Mill Ave and noise is bothering them—which has always been a bit of a false canard. The drum circle was pushed out of a space backed up away from the Ave because developers constructed a condominium structure back there and residents began to complain, an event that still chafes at my sense of fair play.

“Complete non-sense. There are very few people who actually live within ear-shot of Mill, and those that do know full well that it’s the entertainment district and that some excess noise may happen on occasion,” MillAve4Life notes on the KPHO story. “Having been to Mill hundreds of times I can say, without a doubt, that even on the most extreme nights the ambient noise level is still less than an annoying motorcycle with short pipes. If they’re willing to go this route, why not limit the amount of excess light, surely that bothers the planes that routinely fly low and close to land at Sky Harbor International.”

Mill Ave Amplification Needs to be Toned Down Not Tuned Out

Looking at the total amount of abuse that directly affects passersby from musicians who do not check their sound levels and street preachers who care more about being heard far away than being understood has given me a reason to powerfully dislike the use of amplified speech on the Ave. However, I don’t think that “special events permits” are the way to go and I’m bothered that the law seems to only target musicians.

In fact, the press release about the resolution and all news seems to mention only musicians.

I expect that the noise ordinance covers all amplification including that of speech, otherwise its intended effect will be largely useless as buskers are only amid the worst offenders and do not represent all of them.

Simply getting a handle on how loud amplification can be would be superior to cutting out entirely. Especially because the noise ordinance will not affect businesses, even those who have open air venues with large speakers.

If I were a more cynical sort, I’d guess this ordinance is largely connected to businesses feeling like they’re not king of the hill or most dominant for cultural expression on Mill Ave. We’ve seen them behave this sort of way before at the cost of the actual visitors and people who patron the Ave on busy nights.

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One Response to Tempe Turns Down the Noise on Mill Avenue with Amplified Sound Ban

  1. tj

    This is nothing more than discrimination! If the musicians get together and sue the city this will disappear. Nancy Horman is a joke that is only out for her own benefit. According to her the tempe festival of the arts that was created by local artists and musicians is not a venue for live music because music is NOT VISUAL art and the festival according to her is only for visual art. Get rid of Nancy and we will get rid of the problem!!!

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