April 05, 2006

Mull Music Muffling Measure

She hopes it will strike a chord — preferably a muted one — with both those who love music and those who treasure their peace and quiet. This week East Hampton Town Councilwoman Deb Foster plans to meet with local restaurant and club owners to hammer out a harmony between live musical performances at the establishments and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, Foster took on what many have seen for years as a proverbial elephant in the barroom, challenging board colleagues and code enforcement officials to face the music. Under the current town code, she said, live musical performances are prohibited in the Town of East Hampton. Realistically, the town is without the resources to cite every venue that ignores the prohibition. Nor does it want to, according to Foster.

The councilwoman said, simply based on ads in local papers, she counted 13 restaurants that present live music in violation of the existing town code. "People in the neighborhoods [around some of the establishments] have had it," she reported. The town has taken a number of actions, such as adding additional officers specifically tasked with handling noise complaints to existing patrols. But, still the predicament persists.

Contrary to Democratic predecessors who during the late '80s sought to outlaw amplified music altogether, Foster wants to find a way to allow the restaurants and clubs to host live music legally. She wants to set a policy in place before the summer season. Otherwise, she predicted, "Soon we're going to have a very large constituency that's going to insist on their peace and quiet. I've already got a name for them: the Peace and Quiet Party. Their slogan will be 'Mind your Ps & Qs.'"

Ever an aficionado of acronyms, Foster wants to counter the pending groundswell with the creation of Amplified Music Permits. AMPs will be available for the asking, similar to mass gathering permits. A business owner can apply once a season for an AMP. "You walk in, sign your name, and you get a number," she said.

So far, Foster's brainchild entails little more than an agreement by the business owner to keep music indoors and in compliance with current noise requirements. "All we're saying is 'Get inside, close the door, and have a good time,'" she said.

It isn't a total free for all, though. The law creating the permits will set "heavy duty" fines for failure to keep noise levels down. For the first violation of the town noise code, the club owner would receive a warning. A second violation would trigger a temporary suspension of the permit pending installation of noise abatement improvements, such as fencing and vegetative buffers, or interior controls. A third strike could mean revocation of the AMP for the season.

"The restaurant owners are nervous about this," Foster admitted last week, "but it's not as bad as they think."

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