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Bringin' Down the Noise

Finding a solution to noise complaints in Bend

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And this little note, had to go all the way home. At 10pm.
  • And this little note, had to go all the way home. At 10pm.

Residents of the River West neighborhood and business owners at the Century Center meet with mediators to find a solution to noise complaints in Bend.

M

aybe you live in the River West neighborhood on Bend's west side and have heard the bass thumping from one of the outdoor concerts put on by Bend Radio Group. Maybe you've heard whispers of neighbors and friends complaining about noise. Or maybe you've attended one of the shows at the Century Center and enjoyed yourself until the music stops at 10 pm.

Whatever the case, people living in the River West neighborhood are calling into question the details of Bend's noise ordinance—bringing the issue back into the forefront of local politics.

In the time since the last update to the Bend noise ordinance in 2012, business owners at the Century Center have received thousands of complaints, both to the owners personally, as well as in the form of complaints to local law enforcement.

"The problem at a place like Century Center is that the physical distance between the stage and the homes is just too close to ever really be in compliance," Bill Bernardy of the Bend Neighborhood Coalition says. "And that's not even allowing for the fact that sound in Bend can be twice as loud as in Portland. Our decimal limits are much more liberal than in most other cities, so there's already this kind of extra margin, and even then just because of the short distance it's virtually impossible to make it work."

"The first 15 years we lived here,
there was a factory there
and it made so much noise.
There were trucks coming in 24/7,
it was horrible.
It was an industrial zone."

Over the last several months, the City of Bend has been working with a mediator, Community Solutions of Central Oregon, to find a solution that works for both neighbors and the businesses at the Century Center. The most recent meeting took place on Aug. 17, with more meetings to come. The goal: finding a solution that doesn't involve changes to the noise ordinance itself.

"Noise, in general, is a real challenge in the city of Bend," Community Solutions Executive Director Gary Winterstein says. "A generating noise problem, construction efforts, rock concerts, you name it. Festivals. This gets to the City Council and the city manager's world. They are honestly trying to put great policies in place that help the city be the most livable city. They've got their work really cut out for them. I give them some credit for moving the issue over to us."

In addition to complaints reported to the Bend Police Department during concerts hosted by Bend Radio Group and GoodLife Brewing, Derek Sitter, owner of Volcanic Theatre Pub, has received his fair share of heat from neighbors surrounding the Century Center. While he owns an indoor music venue, he says neighbors have complained about the noise that escapes when patrons open his doors during concerts.

"What happened is that, from my end, from Volcanic, we see very little problem," Sitter says. "I've done some things to make the room cooler to prevent people leaving the building as often. I've done some things to be neighborly, as they call it, to prevent noise from escaping the Volcanic."

To have a little music now
and then that ends at 10 o'clock,
there are worse problems
in the world."

T

he main issue stems from the outdoor amplified concerts held at the Century Center. Grey areas do exist, such as unreadable decibel levels from subwoofers and bass and noise escaping during late-night concerts at the Volcanic; however, outdoor amplified noise is the main source of contention.

According to the noise ordinance, daytime hours occur between the hours of 7am and 10pm, while night time hours run from 10pm to 7am. Business and event companies have the option to file a noise variance, which upon approval from the city can allow the 10pm noise curfew to be pushed out later into the night.

Lorelei Williams, program coordinator for the City of Bend, says each time the parking lot between Volcanic and GoodLife is used for an outdoor concert, the promoter files for a Temporary Change in Occupancy Permit, allowing the space to be used as a music venue. Williams confirmed that Bend Radio Group hasn't filed for a noise variance when using this space. As long as outdoor concerts end by 10pm, there's no need for a noise variance.

At the end of the 2016 concert season, Bend Radio Group received a citation for a noise violation during the Grace Potter concert. Upon receiving a citation, a business cannot apply for a noise variance for one year—which means next summer, Bend Radio Group can apply again. Bend Radio Group has since installed noise buffers to decrease sound levels traveling away from the venue.

GoodLife also applied for a noise variance this summer, which was approved for its sixth anniversary party. Many of the applications for noise variances at the Century Center are denied due to the venue's proximity to the residential neighborhood—though many of the concerts do remain within the permitted decibel levels before the 10pm cutoff, according to Williams.

Local Context: Les Schwab

Yes, these are earplugs.
  • Yes, these are earplugs.

M

arnie Smith has been the venue director at the Les Schwab Amphitheater since 2004. The Amphitheater has an advantage over "pop-up" venues such as the Century Center due to land use approval to be a music venue. Smith says the rezoning effort took four years, 11 months and two days to acquire. Despite this advantage, they don't take it for granted, she says.

"Anybody who does call and complain, if they are willing to leave their number, I will call them back and talk to them," Smith says. "Talk about what's bothersome about it, talk about how sound travels. Having open communication with people and making sure they understand that they are heard and that we pay attention to that has been what worked for us so far."

Smith remains in contact with area residents with noise complaints, many of whom have her cell phone number and call her directly. She's developed relationships with them, as the complaints tend to come from the same people. It's important to Smith to make these connections with residents in real time in order to try to make them happy.

A Circulating Petition

W

hile many people were unaware of the mediation between the Century Center businesses and the River West neighbors, Bend Radio Group has brought it to light with a new petition, even creating radio ads encouraging people to sign. The petition, circulating on social media, hit more than 1,000 signatures Monday. The petition states:

"We, the undersigned, believe outdoor events and concerts in Bend, like concerts at the Century Center, add to the quality of life, community and culture in our city of Bend, Ore. WE do NOT want to see them go away."

Concerts such as those at the Century Center please most and displease others.
  • Concerts such as those at the Century Center please most and displease others.
I

n an email from Sitter, he states, "The petition was written and executed by Bend Radio Group. It is simply a list of supporters of outdoor music and concerts in Bend. The goal is to reveal to the neighbors that there are TONS of supporters that outweigh the complaints."

Not all River West neighbors are worried about the noise at Century Center. Tina Reisfar has lived one block from the Century Center since 1995. She loves the live music at the Century Center and being able to walk somewhere for fun. She sees many of her neighbors attending the concerts as well.

"The first 15 years we lived here, there was a factory there and it made so much noise," Reisfar recalls. "There were trucks coming in 24/7, it was horrible. It was an industrial zone. To have a little music now and then that ends at 10 o'clock, there are worse problems in the world."

Reisfar says she and most other people she's talked to thought the noise ordinance issue had been handled. She says when a Century Center concert ends at 10, you barely hear a peep by 10:15 outside of a few people talking on their walk home. She believes most people have been conscientious about working with the neighbors.

"People get off the river, they go see a show, that's the Bend experience," Sitter says.

"Volcanic is a huge part of that experience. If it comes down to a dozen people who don't like their quality of life impacted by Century Center—I think we have a pretty big problem with very few people that are way outnumbered."

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Finding a Solution

W

hile progress is moving at a slow pace, Community Solutions' Winterstein sees a little more understanding happening on both sides. The biggest challenge comes in scheduling, which contributes to the elongation of the process.

"Life is one big negotiation," Winterstein says. "Give and take here. If anyone is going to give any room, it's because they understand that it's good for them. I see some positive overtones about Volcanic, the work the owner has done with indoor productions he manages and oversees, have gotten positive feedback from the residents. GoodLife's outdoor beer garden is pretty popular and residents use it. It's in their best interest to have talent coming. Maybe we can manage these events a little better for everybody."

Meanwhile, Bernardy and the Bend Neighborhood Coalition have several suggestions in mind for mitigating the noise issue at the Century Center.

"Other cities have a more prevention-oriented approach, a more proactive approach where they're trying to make sure that places that have outdoor music are in compliance up front," Bernardy says. "And a good example of that is Austin, Tex., which bills itself as the 'Live Music Capital of the World.' So our feeling is that if they can get it right, Bend can get it right."

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Adopting a prevention-oriented approach could result in fewer complaints, he says. Some of the policies Austin has implemented include requiring an outdoor music vendor permit—which would require any place that wants to have outdoor amplified music to apply for a license and take other preventative steps, such as having a sound technician out to perform a sound impact evaluation ahead of an event.

GoodLife and Volcanic have already adopted changes in order to be both neighborly and compliant with the noise ordinance. As for the bigger outdoor concerts put on by Bend Radio Group, Bernardy and the Bend Neighborhood Coalition suggest moving them to the other side of the building for the next concert as a short-term solution.

"Long term, Bend needs one or more designated entertainment districts and another outdoor music venue kind of like Les Schwab, maybe one that belongs to the park district," Bernardy suggests. "Were not opposed to Jim Gross [owner of Bend Radio Group] staging concerts, but wouldn't it be great to find an appropriate place where it's not causing conflicts? How about a place that can accommodate a thousand people with room for food carts and parking and that kind of stuff?"

"Noise ordinances aren't just about grumpy people who are anti-music or anti-fun," Bernardy says. "They come from a position of saying that noise threatens the health and welfare of the community. What's happening right now with noise pointing out gaps in city policy. If those gaps aren't addressed, there will be more conflicts going forward as the city grows. That is our point."

Winterstein believes each side has smart people with good ideas. With more mediation meetings scheduled, the City of Bend, the business owners and the neighbors all hope to reach a reasonable solution in the coming months, allowing live outdoor music to continue to thrive in Bend.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We reached out to Dave Hill, owner of Century Center, Jim Gross, owner of Bend Radio Group and Patrick Griffiths, River West Neighborhood Association board member, for comment. Each chose not to respond.



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