City commissioners proceed with noise ordinance amendments after seeking community insight

People gather in Aggieville on Sept. 4, 2016. (Rachel Halcumb | The Collegian)

UPDATE: The revised noise ordinance was passed at the Oct. 11 Manhattan City Commission meeting without any discussion.

The Manhattan City Commission brought noise back to the table at its Sept. 20 meeting. The noise ordinance of Manhattan was first approved in 1989 and after a tabling of amending the noise ordinance in May, city commissioners are close to a final vote.

Usha Reddi, mayor of Manhattan, said the amendments to the ordinance include limiting amplified sound, giving measurement to some of the words that were hard for Riley County Police Department to define or enforce and giving meaning to what “unreasonable” means when it comes to sound and noises in city limits.

The legislation states that while violations of the current noise ordinance are likely occurring often, “the current language of the current ordinance makes it more difficult to apply and enforce those laws.”

After tabling the ordinance discussion at the May 17 meeting, Reddi said the commissioners took the time to look at the feedback they were given, host work sessions and get into the community to see who the ordinance would affect the most.

Reddi said it took going out in the community and making some tweaks to finally come to a consensus that pleased all parties.

“I think we have been as fair as we can to all parties,” Karen McCulloh, city commissioner, said. “Obviously, people who live near Aggieville understand that many businesses there have entertainment that make noise, but also there has to be reasonable quiet times.”

To see how this impacted the general public, the mayor, a few commissioners and Josh Kyle, RCPD police captain, walked through Aggieville with bar owners and the Aggieville Business Association president to take readings of decibel levels at various points.

“We found that this ordinance should not negatively impact Aggieville at all,” Reddi said.

Kiel Mangus, assistant city manager, said when it comes to Aggieville, the proposed amendments are actually less restrictive than the ordinance that is currently in place.

“The ordinance specifically defines Aggieville as an entertainment district,” Mangus said. “(In the current ordinance), amplified music is limited at 50 feet from the source, so (it) could even be on their own property. The proposed ordinance allows the noise to travel to the edge of the entire zoning district, much further away.”

Outside of Aggieville, Landon Wingerson, sophomore in business administration and DJ for WingerMix, said he has never had a situation where he was told he needed to lower his music due to city laws or ordinances.

“I can see this affecting me though if I start doing more outdoor events,” Wingerson said. “For now, most of my events are inside, like at high school homecomings, weddings or proms. I just know that when venues are more open, I will have to be extra careful and safe with the sound. It’s just about getting familiar with what I can and can’t do.”

The first reading of the ordinance was approved with a vote of 5-0 and states that a noise violation occurs “if noise is plainly audible or exceeds the (65) decibel limits when measured beyond property line” anywhere in the city, with exceptions of Aggieville or downtown.

To put it in perspective, Mangus said a vacuum cleaner typically creates between 65-70 decibels of noise and a blender creates about 80 to 85 decibels.

“Different things make different noises but it is important to remember that the measurement in residential areas occurs at the property line,” Mangus said. “That means if you are making noise in the house it is going to be much, much louder at that point and then dissipate to the property line.”

If students are curious about how loud their sound is in terms of decibels, Reddi said there are many free apps that can be downloaded onto their phones.

When noise violations occur, Matthew Droge, RCPD public information officer, said the officer response system may not change, as they will continue to follow what the law says as far as enforcement goes.

“Generally speaking, it has been my experience that violations past midnight, committed by those with multiple warning that are egregious, are more likely to receive a citation,” Droge said. “It is common for officers to explain this ordinance to potential violators earlier in the evening prior to complaints being made. This is a great way to educate our community and mitigate potential noise complaints later in the evening.”

Droge said he understands the new ordinance may outline the offenses more clearly, which may help officers when enforcing the law.

“When called to a noise complaint, it is the officer’s discretion to issue a warning or citation,” Droge said. “They will determine whether an offense has been committed, as outlined in the ordinance.”

The ordinance excludes protests, emergency services noise and sound from government or public utility providers. There are also exemptions for sound created from sporting arenas, stadiums, construction and snow removal equipment, according to the legislation.

“The ordinance is primarily directed at excessive noise from entertainment areas and to stop out-of-control house parties,” Wynn Butler, city commissioner, said. “It does little or nothing to normal noise sources, like construction, trash trucks (and) lawn mowers.”

Mangus said the second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Oct. 11, and if passed, the ordinance would go into effect at that point.

Should the ordinance go into effect, Reddi said she plans to gather data and feedback over the next year and then revisit with the commissioners and the city on how the amendments worked in the Manhattan community.

“We want the businesses to succeed and we want this to be a place where everyone can be comfortable in their neighborhoods,” Reddi said.

Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!