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Downtown Commission objects to proposed state rollback of city sound ordinance

Tuesday, April 27, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The Downtown Commission is the latest city body to formally object to a proposed state law that would invalidate most of Austin’s noise ordinance and make it legal for bars and clubs to generate loud music until 2 a.m. seven days a week.

The unanimous vote at last week’s meeting came after a presentation from city staffers about House Bill 3813, which was filed by Rep. Cody Harris of Palestine. Worded in a way that only targets the city of Austin, the bill attempts to roll back limits on noise created by nightlife establishments.

Taylor Ward, the city’s senior intergovernmental relations coordinator, said if the bill is passed and signed into law, the city would be subject to sound limits of 85 decibels, familiar in the entertainment districts such as East Sixth Street and the Red River Cultural District, which currently have weekday curfews of 10 p.m. and later limits on weekends.

“In effect this would require that all Austin residents, to be able to redress grievances related to local sound, would have to lobby the state Legislature every two years,” Ward said.

The bill, which does not yet have a counterpart in the state Senate, appears headed to the general state calendar, giving it a chance of coming up for a vote.

Ward added that there is a high likelihood a Senate bill would be quickly sponsored if the House version is passed. He said city stakeholders are talking with lawmakers to argue claims that the noise ordinances were created after existing bars opened downtown, and that the regulation is anti-business in nature.

Earlier this month, members of City Council and several community groups voiced their opposition to the bill, calling it a preemptive measure that targets Austin in an attempt to roll back local ordinances. Ward opted not to name the main local proponents of the bill, but said the interests of bar owners on West Sixth Street are well represented.

Noise complaints from condominium dwellers located near West Sixth have been a hot topic in nightlife circles for years. The list of registered supporters of the bill includes representatives of Green Light Social and the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse.

Commissioner David Gomez questioned Rep. Harris’ motivations for sponsoring the bill, which Ward said was initiated by a lobbying firm that was able to secure his support on its behalf.

“The business owners and bar owners that are pushing for this, do they happen to be from the jurisdiction of the person that authored this bill? This is very odd,” Gomez said. “It’s important that as many voices are heard, including the Downtown Commission, towards our state government that we prefer to legislate ourselves. This is just one more opportunity for a group of voices to be heard and say, no, we don’t support this at all.”

Chair August Harris said he was disappointed that bar owners downtown who likely support the bill and want fewer restrictions on their business activities haven’t come before the Downtown Commission or other city bodies to raise their concerns.

“It’s unfortunate we haven’t had this come before us before, that we haven’t had stakeholders on either side of this conversation come to the Downtown Commission to use it as a forum to discuss these items before something went to the Legislature,” he said. “We are where we are and if we’re not made aware of who is concerned about this sort of thing within the downtown community that we are here to serve, then hearing about this sort of thing earlier on would be helpful.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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