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Council initiates ‘Private Party’ code amendments

Monday, October 6, 2014 by Michael Kanin

City Council members Thursday OK’d a set of code amendments that, when finalized, could carve out a bit of extra technical leeway for some private events, particularly parties that happen in the West Campus area. Final language is due back Nov. 20.

Council Member Chris Riley, who brought the item forward, explained its impact. “We have a lot of people who are very eager to get to the table to have conversations about what rules and processes we could get in place to ensure that all of these concerns are addressed fairly,” he said. “I think that that sets up a very healthy dialogue that could take place in the coming weeks.”

“That’s different from the messaging that is going out currently, which is simply, ‘party’s over,'” Riley said.

That last line appears to refer to a report published in online publication The Odyssey, which quoted APD Officer Ray Lopez telling a gathering of University of Texas fraternities and co-ops that “what’s been allowed previously is going to come to an end … 99 percent of you will not be able to get the permit you need.”

The Odyssey reported that Lopez was addressing “live outdoor music, including DJs,” events that the publication suggested “will no longer be allowed without a proper permit.” The report added, “Most houses are not zoned to get permits for live outdoor music at all.”

The same report quoted Austin Center for Events manager Frances Hargrove as encouraging students to get involved in the election, should they be displeased with the outcome of greater enforcement. “These rules are set in place by the governing City Council,” Hargrove said. “We hear the voices of the older residents. You need to make your voices heard if you want the rules changed.”

Riley’s remarks came after Council Member Laura Morrison pulled the item over concerns that the new rules might prove to be an end-run around noise restrictions governed by the City of Austin’s existing sound ordinance. “The sound ordinance is a quality of life ordinance,” Morrison said. “I hope that that would be recognized within this ‘flexibility’ (statement in the resolution) because I don’t think it’s fair in any way to start waiving the sound ordinance. That’s a huge issue for people who live in the central city, and we’ve made great strides in being able to work with folks that want to do amplified sound.”

Morrison underscored her statement: “I just want to make it clear that the sound ordinance will not be waived as part of this resolution.”

Assistant Austin Police Chief Raul Munguia offered assurances that this would not be the case. So did Riley. “There is no question that there are significant quality of life interests at stake in West Campus and all of those areas, and so, no, there is no suggestion that we should be waiving quality of life,” he said.

Munguia also told Council members that he had not heard about Lopez’s remarks. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Munguia said. “I’ll be going back to address (it).”

Riley’s item will establish a private party permit, and a process by which residents could apply for one. “The idea here is to get everyone here to the table, let’s talk about what we can do about noise, how we can address concerns from neighbors in exactly the way that the music office has done in other areas,” Riley said.

The item passed 6-0.  Council Member Mike Martinez was off the dais.

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