Bellingham City Council approves music ordinance

By Ryan Wynne

In 2007, the city was presented with a concern. There was a perception that certain music venues were being cited for noise violations more than others, which some believed was happening based on the character of venues and the people and music in them.

“If people had tattoos or were playing certain kinds of music they were more likely to be cited than people who were playing other kinds of music that maybe appeal more to a different demographic,” Kat Bula said at an Aug. 9, 2010, public hearing in Bellingham City Council Chambers.

Bula is the cofounder of Bellingham’s Downtown Alliance for Music and Nightlife (B’DAMN), a group that has sought objective standards for policing noise complaints for three years. And on Dec. 7, the group got what it wanted when City Council approved an ordinance establishing those standards.

The ordinance is intended to balance the interests of music venue operators with those of residents.

It doesn’t include the strict language contained in the original draft; for instance it doesn’t establish decibel limits or quiet hours. It does, however, establish entertainment districts in areas of downtown and Fairhaven with a concentration of music venues where residents should reasonably expect to hear some entertainment-related noise.

The ordinance also appears to contain elements that may appease those concerned with objectivity and those concerned that new limits could actually hinder music. It establishes an official list of criteria for law enforcement to consider when evaluating music-related complaints in entertainment districts.

When responding to such complaints, according to the list, officers should consider time of day, duration, volume, nature of the sound and the location of business. That list originally included “character of business,” but it was removed due to concerns it would be misinterpreted.

“The main reason of doing this was the recognition that we have an incredible music scene in Bellingham and we need to protect that music scene,” Councilman Terry Bornemann said at the public hearing in August.

Club owners who have invested a lot of money in their music venues need some assurance they won’t get shut down for hosting music, Bornemann said.

Bellingham Entertainment District ordinance

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