O.B. Police crackdown on bar noise

Enforcement follows letter of the law.

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The Ritz is one of the places that received a visit from Oak Bluffs officers warning them to close their windows and door. - Rich Saltzberg

Oak Bluffs Police swept into a number of bars and restaurants earlier this week and ordered windows and door shut to tamp down on noise. The actions taken by police stem from a longstanding board of selectmen policy meant to mitigate loud music and boisterous entertainment, Oak Bluffs selectmen chairman Brian Packish told The Times. “It probably went a little too far,” Packish said. “They took it to the letter of the law.”

Packish said both the selectmen’s office and Police Chief Erik Blake have received noise complaints and complaints about overcrowded sidewalks outside bars and eateries. Police told bar and restaurant managers to shut their windows and close their doors or face a citation. 

Liz Beauchamp was bartending in the Ritz when police came in. Right off the bat, she recalled an officer saying, “It’s nothing serious.” She said it wasn’t disruptive, and police were only in the bar a short time to request door and window closure.

Nearby at the Oyster Bar 02557, a woman who would only identify herself as the manager said repeatedly that police went to all establishments in town. She declined to discuss the police visit to the establishment.

Linda Jean’s owner Marc Hanover said the police did not visit his restaurant, however Packish later said this was likely because they close early, don’t have music, and don’t have windows that open out front.

Packish said police are enforcing elements of the selectmen’s policy on alcoholic beverage control, specifically regarding noise. That section reads: “Noise: The licensing authority recognizes the right of neighboring property owners to the quiet enjoyment of their homes or businesses. Each license holder shall be responsible for limiting the noise generated inside their establishment or on outside property that is under their control. A violation punishable by Section 11.00 shall be deemed to occur if noise is clearly audible at a distance of 100 feet away from the inside or outside source at any time of day or night. Noise shall be definition include, but not be limited to, sound produced by guests or employees through human outcry or disturbance, music produced or reproduced whether or not amplified, operation of machinery, equipment or cleanup associated with the sale of alcohol or operation of the establishment. Licensed premises shall keep doors, windows, and skylights closed to limit noise. The doors and windows shall be of such solid construction as to effectively stop the exchange of noise. The use of screens, screen doors, and swinging saloon style doors is prohibited. Establishments shall maintain internal ventilation or cooling capacity sufficient for their climate control needs. Equipment breakdown or insufficient capacity shall not be deemed proper reason to deviate from these regulations.”

Packish described the policy as “archaic,” and in need of revision this autumn, but for the remainder of the season, it will serve as the template to mitigate noise. It fails to address establishments, such as those along the harbor, that are open-air and therefore have no windows. 

The goal for the remainder of the season, he said, is to maintain a tolerable level of noise and to keep sidewalks, especially on Circuit Avenue, passable so families can get an ice cream without running into human roadblocks. 

People waiting to gain entry into bars and restaurants have formed lines at night that make sidewalk passage difficult, he said. The overall situation in the bar and restaurant community has become a little wild lately because of a decrease in sales as compared with past seasons. Packish said he speculates establishments are pushing the envelope with music and entertainment in order to meet their revenue goals.

Just two weeks ago, selectmen authorized restaurants and bars to stay open a half-hour later on weekends, a measure aimed at helping them take advantage of the short tourist season.