published Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

City Council stumbles over Chattanooga sound ordinance revisions

Residents who live near Track 29 say loud music from concerts at the site can be oppressive.
Residents who live near Track 29 say loud music from concerts at the site can be oppressive.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

Also Tuesday, the council:

• Approved a $4.7 million contract with Nashville-based Environmental Abatement Inc., to demolish the former Harriet Tubman public housing site. All three bids to tear down all 440 apartments came in high. Environmental Abatement Inc. was the lowest bidder at $4.3 million, with a $400,000 contingency amount.

• Approved a nearly $300,000 agreement with Alta Planning + Design to build a protected bike lane and greenspace in St. Elmo on Virginia Avenue.

  • photo
    Chattanooga City Council plan to allow higher noise limits in certain parts of downtown.
    Illustration by Laura McNutt.

City's Sound Ordinance
City's Sound Ordinance

Chattanooga city attorneys asked the City Council on Tuesday to decide if 13 revisions should be made to the sound ordinance by casting what appeared to be a secret vote.

But after multiple questions from the state's open records counsel over whether the meeting and methods were legal, City Attorney Wade Hinton asked council members to offer their amendments publicly at next week's council meeting.

City officials have pushed the revisions that would allow businesses with permits to crank up their music during specified hours. Supporters say the new rules could boost nightlife and the music industry in a defined area downtown and in the Southside, while creating better enforcement to control the sound levels.

The revised ordinance was introduced after Southside residents complained for more than a year about the noise at the popular music venue Track 29.

In a meeting Tuesday afternoon, council members weighed whether the district's boundaries should start at Second Street to include popular venues like Rhythm and Brews, or at Seventh Street, along with multiple other revisions.

Instead, Hinton asked officials to circle the revisions they favored on a piece of paper. He said any revision that got five votes would be added as an amendment to the ordinance.

But Elisha Hodge, open records counsel for the Tennessee Comptroller's Office, said details of the meeting are concerning and could have violated the state's Open Meetings Act. She also cited an attorney general's opinion that states a third party -- Hinton -- shouldn't be used as a mediator to get the opinion of a governing body to make legislative decisions.

Council Chairman Chip Henderson said he'd wanted the council to have enough to think about the amendments. He said Hinton came up with the idea to circle suggested revisions.

"I'm much better at making a decision if I've had a week to think on it and not two minutes," Henderson said.

Southside residents who have been involved in the ordinance changes questioned the number of amendments being proposed.

"It concerns me, because I really want to know if we get to speak to any of the changes that are being made," said Peggy Petrey, who lives off Main Street.

The council is slated to vote Tuesday and residents aren't allowed to publicly address the council on any item on that week's agenda.

Other proposed changes include lowering bass sound levels from 95 decibels to 85 or 90 decibels and allow a venue to be shut down for the evening if there are multiple violations in one night.

The council also voted Tuesday 8-1 for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement for developers building housing downtown.

The plan allows developers to negotiate with the River City Co. for a 10-year city and county property tax break, except for the schools portion. In return, developers will be required to rent 20 percent of their units at rates affordable for people who make less than 80 percent of the area median income, or about $31,000.

The deal would have to be approved by the Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board, the City Council and the County Commission.

Contact Joy Lukachick at 423-757-6659 or jluka chick@timesfreepress.com.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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