PDT staff Writer
A noise complaint surrounding a downtown business has caused First Ward City Councilman Kevin Johnson to inquire of Portsmouth City Solicitor Mike Jones as to the feasibility of creating a more specific noise abatement ordinance to alleviate the problem.
Several area residents and business operators turned out for a Portsmouth City Council meeting in June to complain about the noise they say has been coming from the recently opened Columbia Music Arena at 832 Gallia Street in Portsmouth. When the facility reopened with rock and country acts performing, a section of the roof was left open, which residents say allows the sound to amplify throughout the neighborhood.
“My question would be, taking it from a closed to open air, if there was any research done,” Terry Ockerman said. “Maybe there was tons of research, I really don’t know.”
Ockerman gave each member of City Council a stack of online information on the subject.
“(I) have reviewed documentation presented to Council by Terry Ockerman, et al, regarding noise abatement issues, court decisions and etc. I am concerned that we, the City, made a big mistake in approving an open-air amphitheater in downtown Portsmouth,” Johnson said in the email to Jones. “My recommendation: Draft legislation giving the Columbia Theater 18 months in which to enclose the theater (with a roof) or otherwise mitigate concert noise. If not accomplished in 18 months, the City’s Police Department shall no longer consider or issue a permit for ordinance noise waiver for Columbia Theater events.”
Jones responded with — “In my opinion we cannot and should not draft legislation targeting a specific business. If council determines that it is necessary to consider drafting/amending a noise ordinance that applies to all businesses and individuals that would be different. For example, an ordinance with a more objective standard such as a decibel level.”
City Ordinance 509.09 reads in part: “The use or operation, or permitting the placement, use or operation of any radio receiving set, musical instrument, phonograph, loud-speaker, sound amplifier or other machine or device for the production or reproduction of sound which is cast upon the public streets for the purpose of commercial advertising or attracting the attention of the public to any building or structure.”
However, in the segment titled, “Radios, phonographs, etc.” where it addresses CD players, cassette tape players, phonographs, instruments, and other sound-producing devices, it ends with — “This section shall be waived for those persons who have obtained a permit through the Police Department for organized functions during hours listed on the permit.”
The Columbia Theater burned several years ago, and after cleaning up the fire site, owner Lee Scott began the process of rebuilding, putting some $2 million into the facility.
“If they had said it before I would have built it to comply with what they said,” Scott said. “I came up with an idea — I put my money, my work, I put my life into it one more time, against all odds. It is open one more time. And I will never walk away — and I will never let them shut me down. I will take any legal action necessary. I hate filing lawsuits. I have done it twice. They get thrown out. They have no cause to throw them out. We have no real government in this city that will do anything by the books. They do it the way they want to do it. They bend it. They manipulate it.”
Scott said he has had meetings with the chief of police and the mayor, and said he has requested the city loan him the money from the city’s Revolving Loan account to put a roof on the facility.
“I’m the only person in this city that has ever applied for and received and paid back in-full on the City Revolving Loan, never having one late payment,” Scott said. “When all of this started several months ago I went to the mayor himself, I called the Revolving Loan department. I’ve been to the mayor’s office three times. I asked them to loan me $300,000 out of the city’s Revolving Loan Fund, so I can put a new roof, HVAC, and sprinkler on the place that would comply with everything, but see, they don’t want to do that. Never mind that we have the greatest credit, in my opinion. They just want to cause us problems. They don’t want to work with us. They just want to shut us down.”
Scott said he still believes he is being targeted.
“They’re coming at us from every angle they can, and I’m just fed up with it,” Scott said. “I’m just about to say, ‘hey, I’m going to run six nights a week until 2:30 in the morning like my licenses says we can.’”
Scott says he has become frustrated with recent attempts to get him to cut down on the noise in that neighborhood created by the concerts.
“In my estimation, (Columbia operator and Portsmouth City Councilman) Jim (Kalb), myself, my wife (Attorney Christine Scott), really are going to continue to run the theater. We have bent over backwards. But I’m just about sick and tired of them running over us after giving us permission, after I spent $2 million and four years to build it again, after I was given permission,” Scott said. “I don’t know what the legal ramifications would be to the city if they tried to instill even more laws on me than what they already have.”
There is no set decibel level for outdoor events under current city statutes.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.