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Neighbors: "Turn Down the Volume"

What was shaping into a loud and contentious public hearing over proposed changes to Charlotte's noise ordinance took on a more muted tone. City staff defused much of the opposition right from the start of Monday's hearing by admitting their initial proposal was a bad one. Musicians and bar owners wearing t-shirts that read "Music is not a Crime" didn't even have a chance to vent their concerns before City Attorney Mac McCarley took the bite out of their opposition. "We are convinced that they're right," said McCarley. "Our office no longer support (the original proposal) as an appropriate way to do this." McCarley went on to say it was a bad idea to propose that outdoor amplified music be prohibited anywhere within 400 feet of residential neighborhoods. That would hurt too many bars and restaurants that aren't causing problems, says McCarley. Instead, city staff are working on a plan to zero-in on businesses with a track record of noise complaints from neighbors. McCarley didn't give specifics. He says the new proposal will be ready in about a week. As a result, many of the people who came to speak out against the proposed ordinance yesterday toned-down their comments - and even applauded politely at opposing views. What emerged from the meeting was a much clearer picture of the problem from the perspective of people who live near the noise makers. Lynda Watson lives in an apartment complex near the NC Music Factory concert venue. She goes to work at a local hospital at 4 a.m. and has called the police to report loud music many nights. "I stood on my porch with my cell phone talking to the operator and she asked me if I could turn my music down and I said 'Ma'am that's not my music,'" said Watson. "This is not right." An elderly resident of the Elizabeth neighborhood described the pain of hearing loud music emanating from nearby bars through his hearing aids. The director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association said Uptown hotels routinely refund as much as $6,000 a night to guests who can't get a good night's sleep because of the noise. But bars and concert venues aren't the only problem, added Debra Yeatts. She lives in the Ballantyne-area, just 50 feet from the sanctuary of the newly-opened Light of Christ United Methodist Church: "I can tell you there's no peace in my home anymore," says Yeatts. "Sunday morning from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. my house vibrates and my windows shake because of the worship music that's taking place inside their sanctuary. On Thursday nights until 9 p.m. the praise band practices in their sanctuary." People who live near public parks say they're also short on peace and quiet. Robert Fitzpatrick is with the neighborhood group "Friends of Freedom Park." "In Freedom Park in 2008 we had 163 hours of amplified sound - most of it on weekends, much of it in the evenings and during times when people would like to use their lawns," said Fitzpatrick. "The (noise) ordinance leaves out public parks, as I understand it, but we have exactly the same events going on - commercial events, public fundraising events, marketing events for profit." It's doubtful that all of these concerns will be addressed in the noise ordinance that city staff are now revising. But the Charlotte City Council is intent on making some revisions, because it's been 25 years since the city's noise ordinance was last updated. And like it or not, Charlotte's a much noisier place today.