Cover Story: Houston's Noise Ordinance Has Bar and Club Owners Screaming

Things have been quite noisy since Houston's new noise ordinance became law.

In this week's cover story, Houston Press examined the effects of the citywide sound ordinance, which Houston City Council passed on October 10.

While a Houston Police Department officer is confident that the noise ordinance task force (who isn't required to carry a decibel meter) is doing a good job, critics think the law is framed in a language vague enough to allow enforcers wide latitude in interpreting "loud noise."

Since the passing of the ordinance, which dissenters say has flipped from an objective law to a subjective one, venues in the Montrose, the Heights, Midtown, on Washington Avenue and a club outside of Loop 610 have been nailed with fines that can top out at $1,000 per violation.

Before the new ordinance was approved by a 13 to 1 vote, Mayor Annise Parker said that the city received 60,000 noise complaints a year and that the changes to the ordinance were needed to address the problem.

While Heights live music venue Fitzgerald's has received its share of police scrutiny, the Southwest Freeway-area Swagger Lounge and Montrose hipster haven Boondocks have led the way with violations. Swagger has received a total of ten tickets, and Boondocks' owner Shawn Bermudez was cuffed and hauled to the HPD central lockup on February 25, even though Bermudez had gone to great lengths to soundproof his Westheimer Road venue.

The Greater Houston Entertainment Coalition Political Action Committee, a grassroots organization who has started a petition in hopes of changing the ordinance, argue that due to the law's fuzzy language, clubowners have no way of knowing if they're getting it right or wrong. A professor at South Texas College of Law with noise-ordinance expertise says that the law isn't unconstitutional but definitely troublesome.

Meanwhile, Council Member Ed Gonzalez says that a sweet spot between an active nightlife scene and the rights of property owners could be accomplished through the establishment of entertainment districts.

But at the moment, there's no way to tell if that could ever work in anti-zoning Houston.

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