Friday, June 9, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Hotels to join music venues, residents in revamping ‘agent of change’ proposal

Representatives from Austin’s music venues, neighborhood groups and hotel industry are expected to begin meeting next week to rework the city’s long-gestating “agent of change” policy intended to reduce friction between those three interest groups.

That charge was the result of a meeting Thursday morning between a broad collection of parties including stakeholders from those three groups, city staff, the mayor’s office and other entertainment industry observers, who gathered because of concerns that the policy language headed to City Council next week won’t do enough to prevent lawsuits and other confrontations going forward.

The agent of change policy is based on the belief that the business that moves into an already dense area is responsible for acknowledging, and mitigating, the impacts of noise from live music in the area around them. This issue has most visibly flared up in a $1 million lawsuit between the Nook Amphitheater nightclub and the recently constructed Westin Austin Downtown, which accused the club of playing amplified music at excessive volume on weekends despite the business operating within the city’s sound limits.

Music venue representatives have strenuously objected to city staff pushing for a Council vote on the ordinance at its June 15 meeting because of concerns that the 21-page ordinance differs from the four-page proposals that were circulated during months of public forums on the matter.

If the language makes it to the June 15 meeting, it will likely not get much consideration, according to Mayor Steve Adler.

“Council won’t pass an ordinance until we’ve gotten it right, so the focus needs to be on getting it right, and that doesn’t change regardless of when it’s posted by staff on the agenda,” Adler said via email, adding that he was in the Council meeting while Thursday’s meeting took place and hadn’t received a full briefing on the latest development. “We’re all aware there are some reasons to move as quickly as prudent since conditions can change. There may be a way to move forward on independent elements that are resolved.”

The meeting between music venues, neighborhood groups and local hotels will be coordinated in part by James Russell, who in the past year-plus has led the city’s Parkland Events Task Force and the Visitor Impact Task Force to craft long-term recommendations intended for Council action.

The agent of change group won’t officially operate under the aegis of city government, and Russell said he looks forward to having hotel representatives formally involved in discussions that impact all three groups.

“There is a way for everyone to live in peace and have peace of mind, because the neighborhoods don’t want music to go away and the music venues certainly don’t want the residents in neighborhoods or the hotels to go away,” he said. “Not every superhero story needs to have a villain, and everyone wants to succeed. It’s just that people in neighborhoods want to enjoy their lifestyle and hotels have built up where tourists like to be.”

Other concerns over the agent of change proposal include that the current language calling for written acknowledgement by new construction and businesses of possible sound issues from live music doesn’t go far enough to protect live music venues that are coming under increasing development pressure.

Russell and other local leaders have praised the collective action of the city’s live music community in staying involved in the matter. Still to be determined is when a proposal agreed upon by all sides could make it back before Council, which is heading into the thick of budget sessions and CodeNEXT-related meetings through the fall and early 2018.

Photo by Prind1m made available through a Creative Commons license.

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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.

Music and Entertainment Division: A department of the city’s economic development division geared toward growing the music and entertainment industry.

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