The Chehalis City Council approved a resolution amending the city’s noise ordinance on its first reading during the council’s regular meeting Monday night.
The amendment comes after issues involving complaints and vague noise ordinance language were brought up during a November 2022 meeting by co-owner of McFiler’s Chehalis Theater, Tim Filer.
Chehalis Police Chief Randy Kaut explained the issues with the old language in the ordinance. While it allowed for noise complaint enforcement to be carried out within residential areas, no clear decibel levels were established to account for larger venues in the downtown area such as McFiler’s.
“It works great when someone’s mowing their lawn at 3 in the morning and you want to tell them to turn their mower off, but it doesn’t work so well when someone is trying to run a business and that business involves amplified sound that will sometimes escape the building and go out into other parts of the city,” Kaut said.
He added that Washington Administrative Code (WAC) concerning commercial noise ordinances was referenced while amending the city’s noise ordinance as established decibel A (dBA) levels that cannot be exceeded in residential areas are laid out there.
“Under the (new) ordinance, it would be a violation if sound levels reach 57 decibels in a residential area. This again is based on that WAC,” said Kaut.
Additionally in the new ordinance, noise levels in a commercially zoned area are capped at 60 dBA, and 65 dBA for industrial zoned areas. Sixty dBA is considered a normal noise level for a conversation.
He added that these levels were specific to amplified sound coming from commercial properties. The police department also purchased a dBA meter to aid officers carrying out noise ordinance enforcement.
When taking measurements, officers will take two measurements over a 60-minute period, unless the dBA level is 15 dBA or higher than the levels established for residential, commercial and industrial zones in the initial measurement. In that case, it will automatically be a violation as per the new noise ordinance.
State law also dictates the dBA level must decrease by 10 after 10 p.m.; however, Kaut told the council his staff changed the Chehalis ordinance to have that noise level reduction occur after 11 p.m. on weekends to allow events to run longer.
Chehalis City Councilor Kate McDougall wanted the cutoff time to be further extended to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays instead of 11 p.m.; the council accepted the amendment.
Following the playing of a 57 dBA sound sample of “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, Mayor Tony Ketchum joked that he could report his neighbors for leaving their radio on in their backyard.
Some councilors were also confused as to where the measurements would be taken. Kaut said that measurements would be taken from the points where complaints were called in as established earlier, either a residential, commercial or industrial zone.
Kaut clarified that one downfall of dBA meters is they don’t pick up bass noise, which can cause vibrations despite not being excessively loud.
“Yeah, I don’t think the neighbors up there in that Historic District that are calling, if the bass was turned down or turned off, we wouldn’t even have this issue today,” Ketchum said.
“The officers described when they took those calls that they could actually feel it in their vehicles when they were in the area,” added Kaut.
Concerns were raised by Councilor Daryl Lund, who previously owned the theater, that the new noise ordinance might be too restrictive. Kaut said one of his officers had actually conducted measurements with Filer outside McFiler’s a few weeks prior to the meeting to see what dBA levels were outside the establishment.
“They did some measurements. (Filer) turned the level in his business to what he said he typically has it operated at. They went out to Washington Avenue on the street there and got a reading of about 70 (dBA),” said Kaut.
He added Filer was aware of how loud it was and was considering adding soundproofing to the theater.
In a phone call Wednesday with The Chronicle, Filer said he hoped for higher dBA levels and later cutoff times in the new ordinance, but he was going to continue on with McFiler’s Chehalis Theater’s grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for Friday evening.
Before Filer purchased McFiler’s, Lund owned and operated the theater for many years and would have midnight moving showings and other late events. During the November meeting when Filer initially brought the noise ordinance issue up, Lund stated he would frequently have loud events but never once got a noise complaint.
“Well what we’ve got now and what we’re operating under is a lot more restrictive and arbitrary than this,” said Chehalis Mayor pro-tem Robert Spahr, adding later, “we could pass this, try it, see how it works for everybody and tweak it as we go along.”
The ordinance passed by a vote of 6-1 with Ketchum opposing.
“It’s better than somebody calling up just because they don’t like somebody’s music and you can’t even hear it and (the police) have to come and say ‘shut it off.’ It’s better than that, but I still don’t understand this,” he said.
The new noise ordinance will go into effect on March 31 following its second reading during the city council’s meeting scheduled for the end of the month.