@B_Byline Name:By JESSICA A. BOTELHO
@T_Basic: There was a lot more noise, but nothing has changed concerning the city’s noise ordinance. After a lengthy debate about the issue at the Dec. 19 meeting, Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson drafted a resolution to form a committee to review and revise the law, as the council doesn’t feel a single decibel level should be used throughout Warwick. It passed on an 8-1 vote, with Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon voting against it.
Solomon was also the sole council member to oppose another resolution Vella-Wilkinson put forth involving forming a committee to review tax exemptions for veterans, saying he supports the intent of the legislations but ultimately disagrees with both because the committees will be unilaterally formed by Vella-Wilkinson.
“I believe a more equitable standard of selecting volunteers for the committee would be to get resumes from those who are interested in serving and have them reviewed by the appointments committee and have them appoint them,” Solomon said at the meeting.
The resolution regarding noise raised more voices. At the previous meeting, business owners and their attorneys were vocal about amendments Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla wanted to make to the ordinance, which states that venues could have their licenses revoked or modified if they violate the law by having entertainment that creates noise above 60 decibels from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and above 50 decibels from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Their input resulted in Merolla withdrawing his amendments and Vella-Wilkinson docketing the new resolution.
On Monday, Vella-Wilkinson said she had the opportunity to attend several Board of Public Safety meetings in the spring and summer, as well as meet with Chief of the Warwick Police Department Col. Stephen McCartney.
She said the decibel levels do not take into account whether or not a venue is a waterfront property, a mixed usage property or if the train station or the airport creates ambient noises. Overall, she said, it’s a nuisance for businesses and residents alike.
“My suggestion would be that we have a committee with appropriate people who are trained in noise measurement,” Vella-Wilkinson said. “I think that if we decide to arbitrarily reduce decibel levels, one of the possibilities is we’re making our leisure time businesses less competitive. If we don’t pay attention to it, we could also be interfering with the residents’ ability to enjoy their property.”
As of now, the report deadline is May 7. Resident Rob Byrne of Ward 9, who lives in close proximity to Chelo’s Waterfront, was concerned with that date. He asked the council if it allows for enough time to make modifications to the ordinance in time for the summer season.
“If we do it quickly, they should have enough time to come up with their recommendations to the City Council,” said Vella-Wilkinson.
But, Byrne said because the issue is so controversial, there will be more public comments and that might take time for that to play out.
Merolla also expressed concern. He said because it takes two required passages to go into effect, it would most likely be voted on once in June and again in July.
“I know some folks were hoping to have something in place before the summer season starts,” said Merolla.
Ward 5 Councilman John DelGiudice said he thinks it’s best to allow the committee to research the issue during the summer, especially waterfront venues, as well as other establishments that offer outdoor entertainment. He thinks if they conduct their research in winter and spring months, they won’t be able to test decibel levels outdoors when musicians are performing.
“The committee wouldn’t have the opportunity to see and hear for themselves,” he said. “They are looking to set regulations on something they are not going to be able to experience firsthand.”
Vella-Wilkinson said they’d have the chance to review other municipalities that have the same amenities as Warwick, such as airports and waterfront venues. This didn’t satisfy DelGiudice and he recommended the committee have at least one month to research the issue in season instead of them making suggestions based on different municipalities.
Vella-Wilkinson said she doesn’t have a problem with that. Yet, she’s concerned with potential impacts to businesses, as they could be hit with fines and other penalties in the meantime.
“I would rather have a good ordinance than a fast one,” she said.
Byrne said the flipside is that businesses might set their volumes lower when they expect the committee to attend their venues and measure decibels. But, DelGiudice said venues wouldn’t be told when the committee would visit.
From a point of economic development, Vella-Wilkinson said she hopes to keep businesses competitive with other cities and towns without infringing on residents.
“We want to find that balance,” she said.
Resident Richard Langseth commented on the “over the water” problem. As a resident of Warwick for more than 35 years, he’s noticed sound differentiates depending on the wind.
“If you get a southwest wind, you get a lot of noise that you don’t get on another wind,” he said. “You need an expert that understands the ‘over the water’ problem. It’s very significant.”
Vella-Wilkinson said she understands his points and that’s why she feels the “one size fits all” approach of the ordinance needs to be investigated.
“One decibel level throughout the entire city just isn’t working,” she said.
However, Merolla said noise isn’t the only dilemma. In fact, he said Chelo’s on the Waterfront has been booking bands with large followings, thus, attracting more patrons. As a result, he said more parking is needed and patrons are parking in front of peoples’ homes, as well as urinating and vomiting on private property.
Moreover, he said patrons are drinking beer from cans and bottles as they walk from their cars to the venue and littering before entering establishments.
“Some businesses are going beyond an outside permit use,” Merolla said. “If one of those businesses hired the Rolling Stones and 15,000 people decided to show up, that’s clearly outside the use of that area. I think that someone needs to look into at what point it gets beyond capacity. The residents have suffered through this for two summers and they’re looking for some relief.”
Resident Bill Russo agreed and said it’s not just a matter of noise. He feels the committee needs to examine other issues, as well.
“When is a restaurant not a restaurant anymore?” Russo said. “When it becomes a nightclub. I think that’s what we have here.”
Gene Nadeau, who serves on the Warwick School Committee, asked if the committee plans to review noise created by fireworks. He lives in Governor Francis Farms and while he doesn’t mind the firework display that takes place at Gaspee Point in honor of Fourth of July, fireworks that go off through the summer trouble him.
“There are fireworks night after night, week after week until four o’clock in the morning,” said Nadeau. “They do not stop after the Fourth of July. You could hold your peace for the weekend but these go on for a long period of time.”
Vella-Wilkinson said it’s not her intent to include fireworks in the ordinance, however, said she was concerned with firework pop-up tents that were erected in the city last summer and plans to look into the issue in the future.
Nadeau also asked what the current penalties for noise violations are. Merolla said that violations are brought to the attention of the Board of Public Safety. They then conduct a hearing and impose a penalty.
For now, DelGiudice suggested leaving the ordinance as is and if the committee feels more time is needed, they can ask for an extension.
The committee will be comprised of Director of Planning William DePasquale or his designee; Director of Economic Development Karen Jedson or her designee; Chair of the Board of Public Safety Leslie Walaska Baxter or her designee; Police Chief McCartney or his designee; a Warwick Community Police Officer trained or certified in noise measurement and enforcement; a member of the Warwick business community and one Warwick resident, both of whom are qualified to address noise levels and noise abatement; as well as two council members appointed by Council President Bruce Place.
As for the resolution involving veteran tax exemptions, Vella-Wilkinson said the matter should be inspected because the city tax code does not offer the exemption equally to all veterans. Those who served during the same time but did not receive a campaign ribbon or did not serve in a combat area, such as Cold War veterans, do not all qualify to receive the exemption. There are also specific timeframes where veterans from the sea services may not be eligible.
“We want to recognize all those who served,” she said.
This committee will consist of at least one council member, a representative from the Warwick Division of Taxation and three members of the public whom are residents of the city of Warwick and would include a Democrat, a Republican, and a Moderate or an unaffiliated person. The report is due on May 15.