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Noise limits could be lifted in downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda

November 22, 2010 - 04:40 PM
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Downtown Silver Spring
Outdoor concerts are a regular feature in Downtown Silver Spring (Image: Downtown Silver Spring)

If you think outdoor events in Bethesda and Silver Spring are too loud, you may soon be out of luck when it comes to filing a complaint with the county.

The Montgomery County Council will consider a measure that would relax noise limits on outdoor activities at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda and lift decibel limits entirely on certain spots in the county’s urban districts in Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Wheaton.

Originally, county council staff recommended splitting the bill into two parts since a blanket noise waiver for urban districts hadn't received much public attention. But the entire bill will now go before the council after it received backing today from the transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment committee.

Right now, Montgomery County enforces loud noise that surpasses 65 decibels during the day, and 55 in the evening. This bill would allow events at the Strathmore Hall, like outdoor films and concerts, to be as loud as 75 decibels between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., April through October, as long as the performing arts facility files a yearly noise mitigation plan.

The bill would also let the county executive, with a recommendation from the urban district advisory boards, designate specific spots in Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Wheaton that would get a blanket noise waiver. Urban districts would also have to file yearly reports detailing the types of events it will hold throughout the year, including dates, hours, and targeted audiences.

Right now, if you want to put on a loud event, you could get a noise waiver. But doing that for every event can be an overly-arduous process, says Jennifer Nettles of Downtown Silver Spring’s property management company, Peterson Cos.

"That would have killed our events," she says. "And the traffic at the intersection of Colesville [Road] and Georgia [Avenue] is already higher than the current noise limit."

Very few noise complaints have been filed against events in the urban districts, where officials say people not only expect, but want loud events.

Committee members seemed quite comfortable giving the urban districts such leeway in putting on events with no noise limits (although County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) did push for making all such noise complaints a part of the annual report to ensure there is documentation "if there’s an abuse of this authority.")

"Our community is generally pretty adept at letting us know when they’re unhappy with certain things. Certainly the Bethesda community I represent does so quite regularly," Berliner said.

And although not many have complained about loud noise from Downtown Silver Spring’s events, it may be because no one really lives in the middle of the area. At least not yet, anyway. Peterson Cos. expects to break ground on a housing development near Veteran's Plaza in 2011. Will loud noise be a big complaint for those residents?

"We estimate that people be will be looking for that kind of entertainment," Nettles says. "It’ll be a real selling point."

There hasn’t really been any vocal opposition to the bill, but county council attorney Michael Faden did recommend that the noise waiver on urban districts be considered as a separate issue to give residents more time to comment on it.

It was a recommendation that wasn’t heeded by the committee, though—the bill, with both the raised Strathmore noise limits and the urban district noise waiver, will come before the full council for a vote on Nov. 30.

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