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Concerned over ACL noise, Morrison proposes fix

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

City Council members discussed a resolution Tuesday that could lead to changes in the outdoor amplified sound permitting process for large-scale music events on city parkland. The move follows complaints from residents about the sound coming from this year’s Austin City Limits festival at Zilker Park.

The resolution, which is on the agenda for Thursday’s regular Council meeting, would initiate code amendments to transfer the permitting process to a section that the city’s Music Office administers. The Parks and Recreation Department currently handles these permits because of a special exception for events held on city parkland.

Council Member Laura Morrison, who sponsored the resolution, told the Austin Monitor that she was surprised to discover that the Music Office doesn’t administer the permits for ACL, as it does for similar events in non-parkland locations.

“If we can take advantage of the expertise that our Music Office brings — and actually get the process going to get Sound Impact Plans, if necessary — we’ll be able to be much more sophisticated in dealing with sound,” Morrison said. “Clearly, after our experience with this past (ACL) festival, we need to do better.”

According to the City of Austin website, the Music Office develops Sound Impact Plans after receiving permit applications and conducting site investigations, which include “on-site inspections and sound measurements, discussions with nearby residents and business owners and any additional research to assess potential impacts.”

Sound Impact Plans can include customized requirements for attendance and capacity, decibel limits, hours of operation, stage and speaker logistics and more.

Morrison said that she looked into the matter when she heard from constituents about the noise coming from ACL this year, which was “much more significant than in the past.”

Some of the areas Morrison said had sound issues were near the intersections of R.M. 2222 and Loop 360 and U.S. 183 and MoPac Expressway, as well as in the Crestview, Hyde Park and Windsor Park neighborhoods.

“It’s not OK for houses at 183 and MoPac to be vibrating all weekend long, or some parts during the weekend,” Morrison told her colleagues.

Morrison also said that she spoke with a representative from C3 Presents — the company that produces ACL — who reacted positively to the potential changes. “He said he’d really love to sit down with a group of us from the city to try and figure out how we can already start thinking about how to do a better job next year,” she said.

The resolution directs City Manager Marc Ott to propose amendments to city code chapters 8 and 9 and present them to Council at its regular meeting on Nov. 6.

Not coincidentally, this is the same day that a resolution Council passed on Sept. 25 directs Ott to bring a proposed ordinance to Council that would amend city code chapter 9 to give staff the authority to use “C-weighting” as a tool for measuring and mitigating sound.

The C-weighting ordinance, which Morrison also sponsored, states that the measurement tool captures a “broader frequency range, including bass levels,” than the standard “A-weighting” that is in the current code.

Morrison said that, though the permitting and C-weighting ordinances are independent of each other, she aligned the dates so that Council can consider both of them at the same time.

Parks and Recreation Director Sarah Hensley acknowledged that there were sound issues that caused staff concern during ACL, though some of the complaint calls came in after midnight, long after the festival’s 10:15 p.m. end time.

Morrison told the Monitor that she and Council Member Mike Martinez — who co-sponsored both ordinances — have been working to achieve a “balance of music in town and being able to maintain quality of life for residents.”

“I think that we’ve moved the ball so far forward, and this is just one more step in a long evolution,” Morrison said. “There’s probably always going to be room for improvement, but this is just one more step.”

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