Concerns over bar noise grow louder
- Published: December 4, 2023
Often several times a month, noise complaints against some of the downtown bars appear in the Yellow Springs News Police Report.
Almost invariably, these particular dispatch narratives deal with the volume of the outdoor music performances at Trail Town Brewing and Rose & Sal in the warmer months, and, throughout the year, the noise emanating from the back patio at the Dayton Street Gulch Saloon.
Now, with the formation of a new neighborhood group composed of residents who live near the downtown commercial district, those concerns have gained a new tenor.
At the most recent Village Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 20, two members of the Dayton-Walnut Streets Neighborhood Action Group — knowingly and facetiously abbreviated to NAG — spoke during the public concerns segment of the meeting. They called for greater oversight from the Village of the downtown noise — particularly that of the Gulch.
“We have been working since January to address disturbances from the noise-producing businesses that increasingly bracket our neighborhood, and the Gulch is a good example of a business that negatively impacts our lives,” said Steve Deal, a member of NAG who lives on Walnut Street next to the Gulch.
“We the neighbors are bearing all the inconvenience for all the uncontrolled behavior of the patrons on the outdoor patio and in the parking lot,” Deal told Council members.
Also present at last Monday’s meeting was NAG member Ellen Hoover, who lives at the corner of Dayton and Walnut streets. Like Deal, Hoover said her quality of life has worsened as the result of downtown commotion.
“I’ve seen noise, personal safety and traffic issues escalate a lot in the past ten years,” she said. “I feel the Village could address some of these issues by making some institutional changes to ensure that neighborhoods have a real voice in zoning, permitting and planning.”
Of those changes, Hoover and Deal suggested that the Village do more to notify neighbors of future building or rezoning plans — so those residents may weigh in on potential noise created from those plans.
The News reached out to Planning and Zoning Administrator Meg Leatherman to address NAG’s requests to broaden the Village’s neighborhood outreach whenever a new business crops up near the residential districts or when an existing business aims to rezone.
According to Leatherman, Hoover and Deal’s claim — that the Village doesn’t properly notify residents of public hearings of commercial property developments or changes — is unfounded.
“Each [property] application has a different procedural requirement for noticing that is adopted by code,” Leatherman said in an email to the News. “We view these as the minimum standard and mail them out several days before what is required. We include more property owners than are required by the code, just to be safe. We also post a notice in the paper and post a sign on the property. These have all been in place since before 2013.”
The Village’s code states that public notices are mailed seven to 20 days prior to hearings to property owners “abutting and across the street” from subject parcels or businesses seeking a conditional use or a rezoning.
“And we try to go a little further by noticing properties one or two beyond the applicant’s parcel,” Leatherman said. “We try to distribute [public notices] in such a way that everyone can see it. The Village can’t assume who’s affected by a given project and who’s not.”
At last Monday’s meeting, the NAG members also asked that police officers do more to enforce the municipal noise ordinance.
“That enforcement has been inconsistent, spotty or nonexistent,” Hoover said.
Yellow Springs’ noise ordinance, which was modified in 2022, states that no person, firm or corporation shall make noise “of such a character, intensity and duration as to unreasonably disturb the peace and quiet of the community or to be detrimental to the life or health of any individual” after 10 p.m., Sunday–Thursday; after 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; before 7 a.m., Monday–Friday; and before 9 a.m. Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays.
Attempts to contact Police Chief Paige Burge regarding the department’s approach to enforcing that ordinance were not returned by presstime. However, as reported in past dispatch narratives in the News’ weekly Police Report, officers typically respond to noise complaints by either contacting bartenders on duty or by conducting a walk-through of the establishment.
“But in our experience, a noise ordinance without enforcement is toothless,” Deal said. “It isn’t safeguarding our persons, property or property values. It doesn’t incentivise business owners to invest in resolutions for the problems for which they are responsible.”
As Gulch owner Steve Edington sees it, the problems area residents have with his bar are beyond his purview.
“There’s been a bar at this location for over 70 years,” Edington told the News. “To have a problem with it now is disingenuous at best. It’s like living next to a cow pasture and complaining about the smell.”
The Gulch is open Monday–Saturday, 3 p.m.–1 a.m. According to the owner, the back patio — which the NAG representatives say is the primary source of the bar’s noise — closes at 12:30 a.m.
Edington said that every time an officer responds to a noise complaint about commotion coming from the back patio, a bartender on duty is notified and promptly tells rowdy patrons outside to either lower their voices or stop playing music from their portable speakers.
“Our protocol is to shut it down immediately,” Edington said. “But there has been more than one occasion when we’ve been told there was a complaint, and then neither [the staff] or the police are able to verify it. What do you do? Someone’s made a complaint, but there’s nobody to quiet down.”
Of the garbage that Hoover and Deal claimed occasionally gets thrown over the fence onto Deal’s property — such as empty alcohol bottles, cans and more — Edington said little, if any, of it comes from the Gulch. Owned by village resident and landlord Bob Baldwin, the gravel parking lot behind the bar and what people do in and from it — aren’t the Gulch’s problems, Edington said.
“If you go back there [in that parking lot], you’ll see cans from Nipper’s Corner and bags from McDonald’s. People are litter bugs, and it’s not fair to hold us accountable for that,” he added. “We take our trash out the right way.”
Regarding the Gulch’s patio expansion, which was built earlier this year and approximately doubled the outdoor drinking area behind the bar, Edington said that he believes it diminished the noise. Whereas patrons “used to yell over one another,” the added space has tempered the outdoor volume, Edington said.
Still, Hoover, Deal and the members of NAG remain unsatisfied with how the Gulch and other downtown businesses are mitigating the noise and traffic they generate.
Hoover — who told the News after Monday’s meeting that over the last year, she’s filed around 20 noise complaints against several downtown businesses over the last year alone — remains stalwart about improving the relationship between downtown business owners and nearby residents.
“We’re just not getting the cooperation we want,” she said.
After the Nov. 20 meeting, Hoover and Deal sat down with Interim Village Manager Johnnie Burns and Chief Burge to see what recourse members of NAG and other affected neighbors have.
According to Deal, the meeting went well, but his group nevertheless walked away from it with concerns about the “unenforceable” subjectivities and vagueness of the Village noise ordinance as it exists now.
“The weakness of the ordinance is that the police can only charge individuals on a case-by-case basis,” Deal told the News in a follow up interview. “We were told that a business can’t be cited for creating the noise if that noise isn’t directly coming from there.”
Deal said that, in the coming weeks, he, Hoover and other members of NAG intend to sit down with Edington and Village staffers to come up with a long-term resolution to the alleged noise emanating from the Gulch. Furthermore, Deal said he hopes the Village gets a more concrete noise ordinance on the books, anticipating future businesses that he believes will create even more noise that may be disruptive for surrounding residents.
The next Village Council meeting will be held in Council Chambers in the John Bryan Community Center on Monday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m.