Oak Bluffs selectmen consider new bylaw on noise
In a working session last week, the Oak Bluffs selectmen discussed a plan to draft a new bylaw regarding amplified music in the downtown area. Selectmen said they did not want a repeat of last summer, when many neighbors complained about booming bass lines and thundering percussion invading their homes late into the night.
Then, selectmen listened patiently to residents' concerns and hosted informal meetings to bring residents and business owners together. But now, before the new season starts, board members said they want to create a new bylaw, or amend the existing one, to give law enforcement officials the authority to regulate noise from bars.
The current bylaws regarding noise are weak and need to be revised, selectmen said last Monday. There is a town bylaw that limits disruptive noise from 11 pm until 7 am, but establishments with entertainment licenses are exempt. Additional rules contained in the town's alcohol policy instruct bars to keep their doors and windows shut to contain the noise, but give police officers little authority to order a place to stop playing music.
Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, circa 1890, was a bustling Island location for entertainment and commerce. Photo courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum
"The problem is, we come off sounding kind of crass, because there is, legally, not much we can do," Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake said. "They are not in violation of any particular law."
Last summer a handful of establishments received the majority of the complaints. Campgrounds residents were bothered by music coming from the Island House. Caleb Caldwell, owner of the Madison Inn, said neighboring Little Pete's bothered his patrons. And residents said they could hear outdoor music from Nancy's Snack Bar all the way across the harbor.
Selectmen Kerry Scott, who grew up in Oak Bluffs, said her main concern is with the amplification of music, and she suggested businesses switch from amplified to acoustic music at a certain time at night.
"I used to dance myself into the ground every night in Oak Bluffs without ever worrying about amplified music," she said. "There can be dancing and music without amplification."
Town administrator Michael Dutton suggested viewing comprehensive bylaws in other towns, and mimicking the language, and selectman Ron DiOrio suggested amending the town's alcohol policy to include rules about noise.
Renee Balter, a member of the Oak Bluffs Association, which has a newly created restaurant wing, suggested holding public hearings for establishments that have numerous complaints lodged against them. "The thing that always concerned me was when enough complaints come in, that place should be limited," she said.
But some think regulating entertainment and music in Oak Bluffs is a dangerous proposition. As one of two towns that currently serve alcohol on Martha's Vineyard, Oak Bluffs is the epicenter of nightlife during the summer, Mark Wallace, owner of the Sand Bar and Grill, said at the meeting. With neighboring Tisbury talking about doing away with their dry policy, he said he is worried about Oak Bluffs loosing its appeal as an exciting place to be for nightly entertainment. "If we completely squash the ability for young people to go out and have fun in our town, there are some dangers to that," said Mr. Wallace.
The selectmen revisited the topic at their regularly scheduled meeting the following night. Chairman Duncan Ross they said they would try to get something on the upcoming April town meeting warrant.
Amending or creating a bylaw would have to include public hearings where residents could voice their opinions, Mr. Dutton said.