Buckhead condo residents led the charge last year to push for a more enforceable noise ordinance, but they were surprised to learn the ordinance still does not protect condo residents from commercial noise.

The ordinance was supposed to make it easier to cite violators, including noisy motorcycle-riders. But it has not increased the amount of citations written, according to the Atlanta Police Department. Only six noise citations were written in the entire city both six months before and six months after the ordinance went into effect. None of those citations were for a person or business in Buckhead, said APD spokesperson Sgt. John Chafee.

Atlanta City Council member Howard Shook and city of Atlanta Ombudswoman Stephanie Ramage speak to residents at an April 17 Buckhead Condo Alliance meeting. (Evelyn Andrews)

City Councilmember Howard Shook, who led the noise ordinance change, said he’ll try yet another rewrite to help the condo owners.

“I’ve changed this three times. I’ll change it a fourth. I’ll change it a fifth,” Shook said. “Nobody wants to enforce it. They have every weapon they need to shut it down.”

Condo residents’ complaints mostly stemmed from a long-standing issue of motorcycle riders apparently violating the ordinance, but also from bars and restaurants creating late-night noise.

Even though commercial entities, such as bars and restaurants, are allowed to make noise in their normal course of business, the exception to this is that they cannot disturb an area that is zoned single-family residential. If a resident in a single-family zoned area can hear noise made by commercial entities, the noise ordinance applies. Condo building residents found it unfair they are not protected the same way.

“That would be the biggest thing that needed to change,” one condo resident said.

The Atlanta City Council passed a new noise ordinance in October 2017 in an effort led by Shook. The main change was that the new law removes the requirement that officers use noise measuring equipment to cite a resident. The equipment was often challenged for not being correctly calibrated or used by a certified officer, said Shook at the April 17 Buckhead Condo Alliance meeting, held at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, where he was joined by city of Atlanta Ombudswoman Stephanie Ramage and Capt. J.D. Patterson of APD.

People are now in violation if an officer can hear a noise 100 feet away between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and between midnight and 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

During the day, people are in violation if an officer can hear noise 300 feet away between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 7 a.m. and midnight Friday and Saturday.

But the extra protections for single-family residential areas from noise made by commercial entities is the main problem with the ordinance, said the condo residents and Ramage at the meeting.

“That is the part that makes people’s blood boil,” Ramage said.

Shook said he was not aware single-family residences had more protection from commercial noise and said he would try to modify that part of the ordinance. He would look into adding a provision protecting multifamily residential zoned areas as well.

“I do not accept that,” he said. “Bars and nightclubs can’t drive people crazy like that playing noise that is that audible.”

“If you choose to buy a standalone home with a yard, the assumption is that this is someone who has a greater expectation of quiet,” Ramage said.

One resident said condo owners also have an expectation of quiet.

“That seems crazy to me,” the resident said. “We are right on top of Roswell Road. Those are million-dollar condos. They’re more expensive than a lot of single-family homes.”

The commercial entities are excluded from the noise ordinance because they have a right to make noise in their normal course of business, Ramage said.

“The city can get itself in trouble, and we have historically, when we try to protect one set of citizens at the expense of another set of citizens that [are] trying to exercise their constitutional rights,” Ramage said.

A resident at the meeting pushed back, saying that bars making noise that can be heard outside of the building is not acceptable.

“I’m all about commerce, but keep it inside your doors,” the resident said.

Residents reported that bars on Roswell Road installing “outdoor mega speakers” and having bands play outside is the main issue.

Ramage said the only recourse is to find out if the bar or restaurant has made unpermitted modifications, such as by building a deck and installing speakers. They also need a permit for outdoor noise, Ramage said.

The rewrite of the noise ordinance, which Shook said is the “bane of [his] existence,” was spurred in part by residents complaining of motorcycle noise from riders gathering at a restaurant. APD was never able to come measure the noise with decibel readers before the riders left, but the new ordinance has not quelled the noise, residents said.

Patterson encouraged the Buckhead Condo Alliance to make a list of the most troublesome areas and establishments so that officers can focus on those.

Despite Buckhead’s ongoing problems with noise, other parts of the city are much worse, Patterson said.

“Believe it or not, this occurs in other parts of the city at an infinitely worse rate,” Patterson said.

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