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Monday, November 10, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Council passes sound permitting ordinance

City Council approved an ordinance Thursday that subjects large-scale outdoor music events on city parkland, such as the Austin City Limits festival, to more comprehensive sound permitting requirements.

The ordinance amends city code to require that applicants seeking outdoor amplified sound permits for music events on city parkland with a likely daily attendance of 7,500 or more go through the Austin Music Office’s review process, which includes the development of a Sound Impact Plan.

The ordinance also includes a provision that allows the Music Office to deem that certain events that are not primarily geared toward music are not subject to its regulations, even if they incidentally involve amplified sound or music and surpass the attendance threshold.

The Music Office will coordinate its review of qualifying events with the Parks and Recreation Department, which previously administered these permits on its own. Parks and Recreation will continue to be responsible for the amplified sound permitting of other events on city parkland.

Sound Impact Plans can include on-site inspections, sound measurements and discussions with nearby residents and business owners. They can involve customized requirements for attendance and capacity, decibel limits, hours of operation, stage and speaker placement and more.

Council Member Laura Morrison, who sponsored the resolution that initiated the amendments, has stated that she was responding to complaints about sound from this year’s ACL festival, coming from as far as the Crestview, Hyde Park and Windsor Park neighborhoods.

Morrison reiterated this message on Thursday. “We had quite a bit of a challenge during our last festival,” she said. “Something I didn’t know and I wanted to change is that music festivals that are held in parks, their sound permitting is permitted under the Parks Department as opposed to under the Music Office, like the rest of our sound permits.”

Morrison tweaked the ordinance that staff proposed Thursday, lowering the daily attendance threshold from 10,000 to 7,500 and adding in the option to exempt certain events. She also removed language that would have made the threshold cumulative, adding up attendance over the course of multi-day festivals.

“It’s really what happens on one day in my view as opposed to cumulative,” Morrison said. “If there’s a three-day event where there’s 3,000 people there or less (per day), maybe we really don’t care about that.”

Morrison noted that she lowered the threshold in order to make sure the rules apply to Blues on the Green in Zilker Park, which has an estimated daily attendance of 8,000. She said she intended the other changes to ensure that the new procedure does not apply unintentionally to smaller, non-music events such as the Zilker Summer Musical.

Council also passed an ordinance on consent Thursday that amends code to allow staff to use “C-weighting” as a tool to measure and enforce amplified sound levels in addition to the more traditional “A-weighting.” The resolution that Council adopted to initiate the amendments states that C-weighting is more effective at detecting bass frequencies than A-weighting.

Council members voted 6-0 in favor, with Council Member Bill Spelman absent.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Music Commission: The Austin Music Commission guides city practices on music development issues, including the SxSW music festival.

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