Portland officials are looking to tighten sound level restrictions in East Bayside, where breweries and distilleries are increasingly offering live outdoor music, prompting complaints from area residents.

The city is studying sound levels to see how they compare to existing restrictions, but City Manager Jon Jennings said the staff already is considering additional requirements for the busy areas of lower Munjoy Hill and Washington Avenue to bring to the council.

I think what you will see here within the next few months is a comprehensive focus on this particular part of the city from a zoning perspective and ordinance changes,” Jennings said at this week’s council meeting. We have listened to the neighbors. And we actually agree that some of these (activities) are having a detrimental impact on the residents of the area.”

A petition has circulated urging the city to take action to rein in noise levels associated with outdoor music at businesses in the area. The petition, which had 60 signatures as of Wednesday, asks the city to revise the standards for entertainment licenses for businesses within 500 feet of a residential zone or mixed-use zone with residential units. Currently, such licenses allow the businesses to exceed baseline noise limits outlined in the city code.

“The noise issue has been a problem in our neighborhood for a long time now, and many residents here support swift and meaningful action by the council that acknowledges the scope and repercussions of the problem,” Gould Street resident Patricia Flynn said in an email to councilors that included the petition.

Area residents have expressed frustration as councilors have taken up several different entertainment licenses for businesses in East and West Bayside. The most recent example came Monday night, when Maine Craft Distilling sought and received its license.

For the last few years, Maine Craft Distilling has been having outdoor concerts in the rear parking lot of 123 Washington Ave., a commercial area at the base of Munjoy Hill that’s surrounded by residential buildings. Some of those concerts have drawn more than 1,000 people, prompting complaints from area residents.

A NATURAL AMPHITHEATER

Barbara Brown, who lives on Sheridan Street, said the venue is a natural amphitheater, projecting uncomfortable levels of sound throughout the surrounding residential neighborhood.

“The sound waves bounce from place to place and there’s really no surety that where you point the speaker is where the sound wave is going to go,” Brown told the council this week. “Basically you’ve got an outdoor performance arena that’s just sort of plopped down in the middle of all those homes without a buffer.”

Luke Davidson, owner of Maine Craft Distilling, is seeking an entertainment license. Portland is studying sound levels in some neighborhoods in response to citizen complaints. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Luke Davidson, president of Maine Craft Distilling, noted that his concerts are allowed and permitted under current zoning and ordinances. And he noted that some neighbors have complained about noise when there was no live music.

The sound limit for businesses with entertainment licenses is 85 dBA and 95 dBC, which is the equivalent of a heavy truck or a noisy restaurant. Those sound levels, which gauge midrange and low-end frequencies respectively, are measured at the property line. But those limits are louder than the baseline noise limits set by city code, which can vary from abut 50 or 60 dBA in most zones to as much as 75 dBA in some industrial zones.

A copy of sound checks by police responding to complaints shows that the concerts have fallen under the allowable decibel levels. And Davidson said he has scheduled his larger shows to take place in the afternoon and early evening.

“It was never our intention to upset anybody, which is why we have chosen afternoon shows,” he said. “And we’re just following the rules.”

Davidson said he wants to cooperate with the city and he does not plan to book large outdoor concerts at the distillery for next season.

Councilors approved the entertainment license since the business was meeting the city rules, but also referred it for additional review with the city’s sound oversight committee. Some councilors empathized with area residents, noting how quickly East Bayside and Munjoy Hill have changed in recent years.

“I am inclined to approve the renewal because they have been playing by the rules we have set,” said City Councilor Belinda Ray, who both represents and lives in East Bayside. “I do think we may have to change those rules.”

NEIGHBORHOOD’S EVOLUTION

East Bayside has gone from a dead industrial zone to a vibrant creative community of breweries and distilleries. Over the years, tasting rooms have grown to resemble bars. Food trucks regularly park near breweries and more businesses are offering live music. It all combines to create a festival-like attraction for tourists and residents alike.

Jan Piribeck, a visual artist who has lived in East Bayside for 20 years, said in a recent letter to the editor that she’s losing sleep because of the increasing neighborhood noise. She said the current noise limits are not low enough and suggested the city find a better balance for neighborhood residents.

“I can’t concentrate or sleep because of loud music and bass vibrations coming from new nightclubs in my neighborhood,” Piribeck wrote in July. “Venues are springing up around East Bayside, and they bring with them raucous behaviors that disrupt nearby residential zones. The sound meters say this is all OK; the decibels are in compliance. But people can’t sleep, and that’s the real measure.”

Eli Cayer, owner of Urban Farm Fermentory in East Bayside, said city policy has driven that evolution from a makers-market to a more bar-like scene. He traces it back to when the council began allowing breweries to receive conditional lounge licenses, which allows them to sell a limited portion of alcoholic drinks that are not made on site. That was an expansion of the original vision for the neighborhood, which contemplated makers’ markets where businesses would only sell what they made on site.

Cayer, who previously voiced concerns about the neighborhood’s evolution but has begun taking advantage of it, had his outdoor entertainment license held up this month based on noise complaints and other issues, although he says he has not violated the sound ordinance. Cayer built an outdoor stage during the pandemic and has hosted DJs and some bands.

“The City Council turned this into a lounge district,” Cayer said. “With that comes sound, and indoor entertainment and outdoor entertainment. I didn’t create the situation. They did and now they are backpedaling.”

STUDY BEGAN IN JUNE

The council agreed to begin studying sound levels in June, when residents complained about The Yard’s entertainment license application for 82 Hanover St. in West Bayside.

The city commissioned a $35,000 sound study that will lay the groundwork for the staff recommendations, expected in a few months. That study will inform potential action in West Bayside, as well as East Bayside and along Washington Avenue. The two-month study began on Aug. 9, when sound monitors were installed at Parris, Cove, Sheridan and Anderson streets, as well as Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The consultant, Acentech, conducted a similar study in response to complaints about outdoor concerts at the Maine State Pier in 2017. That study led to some changes in the city’s noise ordinance, including lowering the maximum decibel level and requiring sound mitigation plans, but councilors have come to realize that what’s acceptable in the Old Port may not be acceptable elsewhere on the peninsula.

City Councilor Mark Dion said that “sound is a symptom” of the bigger problem of breweries expanding to become “alternative venues for food and entertainment.” And he called on the council to consider its own role in that transformation.

“I would hope we start to consider how this evolution occurred and what role we have as a city to try to manage that in a way that the unspoken contract between us and the residents in that neighborhood wasn’t broken by not paying attention to that,” Dion said.


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