Wharf Street canopy among options for Portland noise task force

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PORTLAND — A task force will spend the next four months considering options to address noise downtown and in the Old Port, including installation of a glass canopy over Wharf Street.

The Public Safety Committee last fall held several meetings to discuss complaints from residents and businesses about loud music playing late into the night outside on weekday nights in the Old Port and the Arts District.

After commissioning a noise study and speaking with police, the committee decided to recommend a task force be created to study noise-related issues.

The City Council is expected to appoint members to the task force at a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

Ben Chipman, a resident of Fore Street in the Old Port, is on the list of appointees. He said he has lived in his apartment for about seven years, but only in the last couple has the noise on Wharf Street become an issue during the week.

“I had a roommate whose bed frame would rattle,” Chipman said, because of the noise.

His solution to the problem is simple: a city ordinance that bans live music outside on weekday nights after 10 p.m. Chipman said he and other residents have tried to work with Wharf Street bar owners and some have been receptive, while others have not.

The task force is expected to explore several options to deal with the noise complaints. The city currently has a noise ordinance that limits noise levels in the city to 55 decibels – or about the same as a loud conversation.

But the police and the noise expert who performed the study for the Public Safety Committee last fall agreed the ordinance was not enforceable.

“Basically, four or five people talking can violate the limit,” Chipman said.

Still, the task force is expected to look into adjusting the current noise allowance, along with creating a process to deal with noise complaints; changes to building codes, and disclosure to prospective tenants and buyers.

The order establishing the task force also suggests studying the viability of installing a glass canopy or other sound-blocking device on Wharf Street.

“I think we can come up with a reasonable solution that does not involve spending tens of thousands of dollars on a glass ceiling over Wharf Street,” Chipman said.

Management at the Portland Harbor Hotel, across from Wharf Street, have also complained several times about noise. They’ve spent thousands of dollars installing replacement windows designed to block sound and on refunds to unhappy guests, according to the minutes of Public Safety Committee meetings.

The Downtown Noise Task Force is expected to report back to the council with findings and recommendations by June 21.

Chipman said that while he thinks the Public Safety Committee should have taken the issue on itself and found a solution, he hopes something productive will come out of the task force.

The City Council appointee to the task force is Dory Waxman. She did not respond to a request for comment. Waxman served on the Public Safety Committee until December.

Others expected to be appointed Wednesday night are: Doug Fuss of Bull Feeney’s, Chris Campbell of One Longfellow Square, musician Rob Sylvain, Police Department Cmdr. Mike Sauschuck and residents Chipman and Beth Humstone.

The council meets at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net