Oak Bluffs noise makers meet with critics
Perhaps it was the extreme heat outside, dampened by the hors d'oeuvres and ice water inside the Oyster Bar Grill, but the atmosphere was positively convivial when a group of Oak Bluffs residents and business owners met last week to discuss the ongoing issue of late-night downtown noise.
The informal meeting was arranged following the Oak Bluffs selectmen's August 1 meeting. Abutters to the downtown area turned out in force to complain to town leaders about what one speaker described as the "unbearable" noise level in the downtown area.
Although there seemed to be a level of goodwill and all-around willingness to work on the problem together at Thursday meeting, finding an effective solution that satisfies everyone may take some time.
A solution for everyone
With the staff scurrying around in preparation for the dinner crowd that would soon arrive, approximately thirty people gathered at the Oyster Bar Grill at the end of Circuit Avenue on Thursday afternoon to discuss a solution to an issue that has dogged the town for years.
Because most of the noise complaints seemed to be generated by only a few establishments, the selectmen Tuesday night pushed for the informal meeting, rather than attempting to solve the problem with new regulations.
On Thursday representatives from The Island House on Circuit Avenue, Little Pete's Seafood Grill on Kennebec Avenue, and Nancy's Snack Bar on the harbor sat down with a few dozen residents and town officials, including Chief of Police Erik Blake, selectman Duncan Ross, and town administrator Michael Dutton.
Chief Blake acted as moderator, but he said it was up to the abutters and business owners to hatch a plan that would allow residents to sleep and businesses to make money.
"If you can turn down the music and make them happy, and still have a dance hall, then that's wonderful," said Chief Blake. "That's a win/win as far as I'm concerned."
The overall concern from abutters Thursday was not the presence of entertainment and music, but the noise level. Those present complained of losing sleep, a constant drumbeat, and music past the 12:30 am curfew.
Many of the residents at the meeting said they have lived in their homes since the 1950s, and have witnessed the entertainment scene evolve from quiet piano bars with no liquor license, to amplified music and packed clubs.
"My husband and I bought the house for the view, and that was taken away from us, and then it just exploded with the noise," Helen Scarborough said Thursday. "But we're not going to go away."
Michael Gillespie, co-owner of The Oyster Bar Grill, handed out business cards with his cell phone number printed on the back, and managers of other establishments did the same. They encouraged abutters to call immediately if the noise was too loud, so that the problem could be addressed while it is happening, rather than two weeks later at a selectman's meeting.
"Please understand that we want to resolve this. We are part of this community, too," said Jon (JB) Blau, co-owner of Sharky's Cantina. "We respond really well to person-on-person contact.
Mr. Blau also hinted at the creation of a restaurant association, which he said has been in the works for months. Neighbors could meet with the association when they have complaints, rather than going to the board of selectmen.
"We, as you, want the selectmen to focus on more pressing issues," he said. "We all pay a lot of taxes here."
A plan that worked
Mr. Blau, who was approached by neighbors when he first opened Sharky's last year, said he and they have worked together on the noise problem. He said he spent over $10,000 on security and new walkways behind his restaurant, to deal with the "alleyway that is like a subwoofer into the campgrounds."
He said the neighbors have done their part too. One couple utilizes a "sound machine" at night, which utilizes the sounds of crashing waves and chirping birds to cover up the likes of Snoop Doggy Dog and Kanye West. Others said they find that shutting their windows and running an air conditioner blocks out most of the noise.
"We both need to be very tolerant," said Mr. Blau. "Our model worked, but it can't be 100 percent the restaurant's responsibility, it has to be both."
Conversation among the participants continued after the meeting concluded. It appeared that the meeting ended with the creation of a line of communication between businesses that play amplified music, and their abutters.
"When we're in Cronigs in January and you see me and you're mad at me - I hate that," said Mr. Gillespie. "So let's all work together."