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Council looks to approve new sound ordinance before South by Southwest

Thursday, February 10, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council took steps towards approving a new sound ordinance at yesterday’s work session. Approval of the ordinance — expected today — will allow South by Southwest to serve as a sort of testing ground before larger changes are made. The ordinance would amend the City Code as it relates to temporary event permitting.

 

The multi-day temporary event permit would allow for four nights of music, either consecutive or non-consecutive, within a 30-day period and allow for notice and appeal. Applicants would be required to submit a sound impact plan to obtain the permit.

 

“This is part of a much more comprehensive effort, one that I would have hoped we would have already been a little further along on,” said Council Member Randi Shade. “But we don’t quite have all of the ducks in a row on some of the other aspects of our sound ordinance that need to be addressed. We did not want spring to come and go without having something to address the specific, immediate need of South by Southwest.”

 

After working for years on revisions to noise ordinances, Council members seemed enthusiastic about getting the opportunity to test a code change on a smaller, concentrated scale and about the potential for immediate feedback.

 

“I think the intention was to try and get through South by, and give us a week or so to get everybody done with that stuff and then entertain all the discussions that surround outdoor music venues,” said Bobby Garza, chief of staff for Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez. “You’ll see in the ordinance, in the very back, there is a provision for a review of the things that we are doing here, to kind of figure out whether all of these new concepts can work, and maybe some of them can apply to outdoor music venue permits in general.”

 

While South by Southwest offers a unique opportunity to road test the ordinance as it pertains to four-day music permits, Mayor Lee Leffingwell emphasized that passing the ordinance would also be an opportunity to support the festival.

 

“I think it’s really important that we have a workable way that we can deal with the upcoming South by Southwest in place. It may not be perfect, and we are going to work on the perfect after we get past this,” said Leffingwell. “South by Southwest is a signature city of Austin event and the economic impact of that little event is about $100 million dollars a year for Austin. We certainly want to nurture that and realize how important it is.”

 

There was no attempt by Council members to disguise the fact that time was of the essence.

 

“I think the three co-sponsors and their staff recognize the urgency of making sure we keep the momentum and don’t wait until the next South by Southwest. I think that is a really important commitment,” said Shade. “We’ll keep the momentum going after South by, and I hope that we have all the rest of the 361 days covered very soon.”

 

Council Member Laura Morrison is a co-sponsor of the ordinance. She noted that enacting the ordinance is progress in what has been a laborious process.

 

“I just want to remind my colleagues, staff, and the community: If you look at where we were three years ago, we had lots and lots of confrontations and lots of people unhappy on all different sides, and so there has been amazing progress that has been made,” said Morrison. “We can’t fix everything all in one fell swoop.”

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