Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Flash Mobs, Tea Dances and Noise Violations

    On the evening of Sunday, September 30, Don Blyler, event planner extraordinaire, foisted upon Lancaster’s downtown residents a Provincetown-like “Tea Dance” called Sunset Sundance from the top level of the Prince street parking garage.

    The featured music was presented by one of Washington D.C.’s finest DJ’s, David Merrill. A check of his Facebook page reveals that his specialty genre is Fire Island-inspired cutting edge beats as in “House, Progressive, Tribal, Trance and Electro-House” sounds.

    Unbelievably, as a practitioner of “cutting edge sounds”, David Merrill is cheeky enough to credit Nietzsche with the comment, “Without music life would be a mistake“. I seriously doubt that Nietzsche would have included the insistent, persistent, throbbing gay disco beat as required listening for a music lover.

    This “Happening” (as used to occur during the Beat generation years ago) was engineered like a Flash Mob occurrence of this generation -- the location was Secret until it was announced via Tweet or Facebook or eMail the morning of the event.

    Even if hobnobbing elbow to elbow with a dance floor full of men is your thing (this was a gay-ish event for the benefit of the LGBT community,) you had to be prepared with money. General admission was $55. VIP admission was available for $110. And for that Special VIP, “Priority” VIP admission could be had for $1100.

    Have you ever tried to listen to quiet music in the privacy of your own home? Have unwanted, unwarranted sounds invaded your home for more than a minute or two? Or ten minutes? Or FOUR hours?

    Well, thanks to our city officials, Lancaster has a noise ordinance designed to prevent invasive sounds from penetrating into your private, quiet space. Like the sounds emanating from the roof of the Prince street parking garage for the entire downtown neighborhood.

Yeah, sure.

    A police officer ticketing cars parked in a No Parking space nearby said when asked if the sounds crossed property lines, “I think they’re crossing half the city”. The officer called in and asked for information about the LOUD event and learned that a “variance” had been authorized for this event. With a variance you can make any noise you want to without fear of prosecution.

    A variance, when sought, has to be applied for and a notice of application must be published far enough in advance for affected people to express their feelings about the request. However, with a one-time event, a variance can be granted by a police officer appointed by the Chief of Police.  What seems to be missing here is that even a streamlined “express” variance MUST COMPLY with the stipulations set forth in the basic noise ordinance.

        Chapter 198 Noise Subsection 198-7 A(5) (pertaining to Variances)

        “In determining whether to grant or deny the application,                        
        the Board (Noise Control Review Board) shall balance
        the hardship to the applicant versus the adverse impact to the public health, safety and welfare
        and shall consider at a minimum the following conditions:

            (a)  The physical characteristics of the emitted sound;
            (b)  The times and duration of the emitted sound;
            (c)  The geography, zone and population density of the affected area;
            (d)  Whether the public health and safety is endangered;
            (e)  Whether the sound source predates the receivers; and
            (f)  Whether compliance with the standards from which the variance is sought would
                  produce hardship without equal or greater benefit to the public.

        “The Chief of the Bureau of Police or his designee may, upon application and guided by the
        standards for use as set forth in Subsection A(5) hereof, grant special variances
        for infrequent events or activities, including but not limited to band concerts,
        block parties, church carnivals or other performances or similar activities,
        publicly or privately sponsored and presented at any public or private space outdoors.”

    It seems in the case of this event, the Hardship requirement was never even addressed. The burden of proving hardship is on the applicant. The applicant has to prove that denial of the request would create a hardship on him.

    “Hardship” is defined as privation or suffering.

    “Privation” is lack of what is needed for existence.

    “Suffering” is enduring death, pain, or distress.

    I don’t understand how being denied the authority to make music loud enough to permeate an entire neighborhood disturbing the peace of all who wish to hear their own music in their own home could be considered a hardship.

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