Noise Ordinance Bombs

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CRIME

Noise Ordinance Bombs
Cases dropped in court.

By Steve Jansen

Due to a lack of witnesses and insufficient evidence, the Harris County court system shuttered each and every sound ordinance case that was heard recently.

Local musicians, DJs and bar owners have been under the microscope since Houston City Council overhauled its decade-old sound ordinance on October 10. The new law dropped the Houston Police Department's requirement that officers carry a decibel meter to measure sound; instead, a member of HPD's noise ordinance task force can write tickets based upon audible noise that can be heard from the sidewalk.

Marco Torres of the Houston Press says that DJ Sober, who had been nailed at the oft-busted Boondocks, was one of the ticketed whose case was dropped. The subjectivity of Houston's new noise law — as well as its problems and pitfalls — was explored in the Press's "Sound Effects" cover story May 10.

Joshua Sanders, a registered lobbyist and official spokesperson for the Greater Houston Entertainment Coalition Political Action Committee, sees the case-dropping trend continuing.

"It's what we've been talking about," says Sanders. "In a subjective nature like this, until you actually have a witness show up, have the police show up and have some sort of tangible evidence, it's essentially going to get dismissed."

Matthew Festa, a professor at South Texas College of Law who knows all about the ins and outs of sound ordinances, says that due to Houston's lack of zoning, the new law was bound to fail from the beginning.

"In Houston, with the lack of zoning, you can't say that noise is okay in one neighborhood but we're going to prevent it in another neighborhood...there's no way you can draft a standard."
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ENVIRONMENT

Lake Thicket Endangered
Developer may fill it in.

By Steve Jansen

In February, a Swedish development and construction company named Skanska snatched up the vacant ARCO building at 15375 Memorial Drive and some of the infrastructure surrounding Lake Thicket, which is home to armadillos, opossums and migratory birds such as Canadian geese.

"They told us that they were going to develop it for both high-rise office buildings and rental housing units," says Memorial Thicket subdivision resident and Save Lake Thicket coalition member Phil Richardson. "When we started talking with them before February, it was with the understanding that they would retain Lake Thicket as part of the development.

"In May, we started hearing that not only was it unlikely that they were going to keep the lake, but they were proceeding to get rid of all of the wildlife from the area, too," adds Richardson.

Even though lake conditions have deteriorated since ARCO abandoned its Energy Corridor digs in 2009, it's still not cool with area dwellers that the European firm, which has branches all over the States, keeps calling the body of water a "retention pond."

Since that's pretty much fighting words to people who love the lake, protests followed. As a result, Lake Thicket has been saved...for maybe just a few more months.

"There are no plans to drain the pond in the immediate future," writes Jessica Murray of Skanska. "We are still very much in the early phases of planning and will not make any determination on the pond until plans have been finalized."

Oooooh. She said the P-word. Twice.

In June or July, the old ARCO site will be leveled while a Lake Thicket game plan is determined. In the meantime, Richardson remains concerned about what could happen if the lake is drained and filled.

"There are wetlands around the lake that could be destroyed," he says. "Plus the lake holds a heck of a lot of water, especially when you have downpours like in [April] 2009. If they fill it in, that sink for rainwater is gone."

Richardson explains that the Memorial Thicket subdivision bit itself in the backside in 1987 when it traded ownership of the lake with ARCO in exchange for ten housing lots, which means that the new owners can do whatever they want.

"The agreement said that residents could continue using the lake," says Richardson. "It was a good deal until it expired after 15 years.

"Now we don't have direct control over it anymore. We should have made it 50 or 100 years. Now we're in this dilemma that we're trying to work through."

 
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