Aldermen Pootmans and Farrell re-examine noise bylaw for outdoor concerts after election

Calgary’s city noise bylaws will be re-examined when city council meets after the upcoming municipal election on Oct. 21. The issue was addressed during city council’s Sept. 16 meeting with several aldermen and Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressing their concerns.

It was brought up that many Calgarians have had their quality of life impacted by the noise of outdoor festivals.

Ward 6 alderman Richard Pootmans, who has worked with a number of groups responsible for city festivals, said the issues of noise and time constraints needs to be reconsidered. Specifically, he said he feels that the city’s remedies for these subjects should be examined.

Addressing council at their last meeting before Calgary’s municipal election, Pootmans said, “We have had some rough edges between the community’s interest and the venues interest and I think there’s room for improvement. I’m wondering if the concert bylaw might help us in that regard.”

The concert bylaw, which enforces such laws like the appropriate location of festivals, is not specific when it comes to noise factors as they pertain to surrounding communities.

Outdoor venues

There are many concerts in the city held in places like Fort Calgary, Canada Olympic Park and Shaw Millennium Park. Residents from several kilometres away say they can hear the music — and this isn’t always appreciated. Area aldermen are also hearing from residents.

In the last several months alone, Shaw Millennium Park has hosted Canadian bands like The Trews, Great Big Sea, The Tragically Hip, Arkells and Stars. Fort Calgary played host to X-Fest, headlined by Blink-182 and City and Colour.

Ward 7 alderman Druh Farrell said that looking closer into the noise bylaw and incorporating community input would be best.

“The festival groups haven’t been including the neighbouring communities in the discussion,” Farrell said. “They are an important partner in this. We rely on their good will, so it is important that they are a part of the discussion and a part of the solutions if there are problems.”

In recent years, Calgary has seen the closing of popular venues the Marquee Room The Distillery, Costello’s Sports Lounge and most recently, the popular all-ages venue, The New Black Centre.

Fort Calgary played host to X-Fest in 2013, seeing the likes of Blink-182, Weezer and City and Colour take the stage as headliners. Events like X-Fest may potentially be effected as Calgary city council plan to re-examine the city’s current noise bylaw.

Photo by Justin Wilson

Musician concerns

Local guitarist Matthew Ellis, who’s been playing various Calgary venues for years, is concerned an examination of the bylaw could add difficulty to a music community already experiencing several venue related issues — especially after the new law that charges venues extra fees for bringing in international artists.

Ellis said, “If they hadn’t shut down Race City Speedway, then we wouldn’t have to resort to using Fort Calgary.”

Ellis also feels that the bylaw risks targeting certain festivals while remaining lenient with others.

“Is creating stricter bylaws only going to affect music that the general public doesn’t like, such as X-Fest, and yet go easy on something like Folk Fest?”

Farrell, who has received numerous phone calls from Calgary citizens bothered by festival-produced noise, said that while it is too early to tell whether or not certain music festivals would be affected more than others, certain factors need to be looked at as it relates to outdoor shows.

“Regarding certain concerts, the noise travels less than others and it could be the type of music,” Farrell said. “It could also be how the speakers focus. We need to look at that. And we need to look at frequency too.”

Farrell also said that looking into other areas of the city to hold outdoor shows is a possible solution to this issue.

“We have many locations that would make good candidates. It is worth exploring,” Farrell said. “We have many parks throughout the city. I know that the festival group is looking at dispersing festivals into a wider area because it can bring vibrancy and life to a community. We are talking about all of these things.”

A say from the industry

Gavin Howard, a Calgary sound technician who’s worked in a variety of concert environments, said that if proposed bylaw changes were going to directly affect his job, he would like to be consulted. Howard said that technicians like himself are not required to know the details of city noise bylaws and generally set volumes at what’s best for the venue.

“I believe I tend to mix a little quieter than the majority of sound guys,” Howard said. “I have worked in bars before that pull out a meter and say ‘you cannot go over 90 decibels,’ and then the drums themselves, before I even turn the P.A. on are like 95. Loudness is a tricky thing.”

2013’s X-Fest saw Canadian acts Mother Mother and Death From Above 1979 take the stage, but after receiving complaints about the volume of outdoor festivals, city council has begun to question whether the allotted decibel levels need to be re-examined.

Photo by Justin Wilson 

The current bylaw

In Calgary, decibel levels are measured by a tester who is an individual authorized by the city manager using a sound level meter.

The current bylaw reads that outdoor speaker systems are not to be used within 150 metres of a residential development between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Continuous sound in residential developments is not to exceed 65 decibels for longer than one hour during the day with the decibel allowance dropping to 50 throughout the night.

In downtown, continuous sound is not to exceed 75 decibels for longer than one hour during the day with the level being dropped to 60 decibels at night.

The operations coordinator for Calgary’s animal and bylaw services, Abdul Rafih, said that each outdoor event is assigned an officer, or officers who regularly monitor sound levels and conduct numerous tests from multiple locations around the site.

“If we find somebody in violation of the community standards noise bylaw, we would set a mandatory court date and they would then appear before a judge. And the judge would then issue a fine amount that they feel would fit at the time,” Rafih said.

Out of the nearly 2,600 noise complaints the city has received this year, less than 100 of those have been related to outdoor festivals, and only eight of the 2,600 violations have resulted in charges. Fines for violations can be up to $10,000.

“We understand the need for events in the city,” Rafih said. “It’s something that the city strives to continue building with other external partners. If somebody wants to hold an event, we’ll do everything we can to assist them.”

At times, the city will make exceptions for larger events while reminding all parties involved to be courteous of their neighbors, which means closely monitoring their own levels while working with the city and bylaw officers present at the event.

“There are times, for example the Calgary Stampede, we grant noise exemption permits that extend to midnight,” Rafih said. “Music festivals including Folk Fest are granted exemptions that allow them to reach a daytime decibel level until 11 p.m. The exceptions are because we understand the need for events in the city.”

For additional information on Calgary’s current noise bylaw, see Section 9 of bylaw number 5M2004. 

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