Leesburg’s push to transform its historic downtown into a center for arts and culture is coming at a cost to peace and quiet, according to some downtown residents who say that amplified outdoor music at several restaurants is affecting their quality of life.
The Town Council is considering changes to Leesburg’s noise ordinance that would establish measurable standards for excessive noise. Several downtown residents spoke at a council meeting last week to urge members not to make any changes that would relax current noise regulations.
The residents, who live near Shoe’s Cup & Cork on King Street, and MacDowell Brew Kitchen and Döner Bistro on Harrison Street, told the council that music from the restaurants is disruptive.
“We clearly hear music several nights per week, specifically Tuesday through Saturday, during warm weather, even with our windows closed,” said Teri Simonds, who lives a few blocks from the Harrison Street businesses. “This means no meals on the deck when the weather is nice, and it means having to shut the windows to try to regain some measure of privacy and quiet.”
Royal Street resident Linda Ifert said, “When both venues are playing music, I don’t hear one or the other. I hear them both. The effect of competing music ceases to be music when you’re stuck in the middle, and it degrades the quality of life. And especially when there are a lot of bass tones in the music, it just vibrates and cuts right through my home and through my body.”
Velda Walker, who lives on Cornwall Street, described the noise coming from Shoe’s last summer as “awful.”
“You couldn’t sit out on your deck and talk to anyone, because the noise was so loud,” she said. “And if you were inside, all you heard was [loud pounding] from the bass.”
Cornwall Street resident Robert Guerra said that even his daughter, who is deaf, was bothered by the rhythmic pounding of the bass music.
“I love music,” Guerra said. “There’s no kind of music I don’t like. I don’t think music needs to be loud to be good. . . . When my deaf daughter is irritated by it, there’s a fundamental problem there.”
Wirt Street resident David Groy asked the council, “Would you want, on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, to have someone pick the music you . . . listen to? You want to sit out on your patio or your porch, and that’s what you have to listen to. You have no control over it, none.”
Several downtown residents said that they enjoy Leesburg’s street festivals and that indoor music at businesses such as the Tally Ho Theatre and the Downtown Saloon does not bother them.
Leesburg’s current noise ordinance is based on a “plainly audible” standard, which says noise can be deemed excessive if someone can clearly hear it at a distance of 50 feet. The council is considering changes to the ordinance that would set decibel limits from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. most days, and until 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Police Chief Joseph Price told the council that patrol officers do not routinely look for violations of the noise ordinance but that they will respond if someone complains.
Ifert said that, although the neighboring businesses have been cooperative when she asks them to turn the music down, “It just gets tiresome to have to feel like I have to do that all the time, or my only recourse is to call the police.”
Two local musicians addressed the council in support of the restaurants offering live entertainment.
“I love how, in the course of the last decade, I’ve seen a huge rise in the cultural scene and music scene,” Nathaniel Davis said. “And the cultural scene is not just music, but in art and dance and eating.”
Payson Van Orden urged the council not to forget the people who want this kind of entertainment.
“We are not playing music or performing our art for empty houses,” he said. “The culture is changing, and so does the atmosphere need to change along with it. . . . Historically, downtown areas have been the economic and cultural center of the town, and it is the heart of this town.”
Richard Ellis, an associate of Shoe’s, said he favors changes to the ordinance that would set objective standards for excessive noise, although he said it would be difficult to ask musicians to turn the music down to the 70-decibel limit proposed in the ordinance amendment.
“We’re not thrilled with this, but we will live with it,” Ellis said. “Most importantly, we want to be a good neighbor.”
Lee Beddow, general manager of Shoe’s, said that he also favored setting objective noise levels and that he would fully support and comply with whatever the council decides. He apologized to the residents for “any noise or discomfort” they experienced last year.
Some of the downtown residents expressed support for setting decibel-based noise limits, as long as current standards are not relaxed. Others favored keeping the “plainly audible” standard and enforcing it.
Several council members expressed sympathy for the residents. Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd said, “People have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their property.”
“You deserve the right to have what you bought into,” council member Thomas S. Dunn said. “If you bought into a business under certain circumstances, you should be managing to those circumstances. If you bought a home in an area, you should have the right to expect living conditions under which you bought the house.”
The council is expected to discuss the ordinance at its work session Monday.