Fighting noisy businesses in the West Loop
05/11/2011 10:00 PM
Friends and I recently celebrated the signs of spring at one of West Madison Street’s outdoor patios. It had me recalling a CAPS meeting four years ago where the dominating topic was motorcycle noise on that very corner. I attended the meeting back then to talk about the drug use and the drug dealing I saw while on my daily constitutional. I came away with a “we’ll look into it” about the drugs, and a wealth of information about noise pollution.
The neighbors shared in great detail when and where the motorcycles were the loudest and asked for police action. The CAPS officer said police could not ticket for noise pollution without a meter reading to verify that the decibel level exceeded legal limits. In typical bureaucratic fashion, the meters were the responsibility of the Department of Environment, not the police, and were only available during regular business hours.
I shared that last part with my friends and we laughed — saying these days there’s no need for that decibel meter because today “there’s an app for that!” That’s true, actually, but the department doesn’t allow the use of outside technology to measure decibels.
More than cell phone technology has changed since that meeting. In 2007, the Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance ordinance was passed. It allows residents within 500 feet of a nuisance a number of remedies, including requesting the revocation of the a problematic establishment’s licenses.
That ordinance works in tandem with the Chicago Environmental Noise Ordinance, a section of the Municipal Code that sets time limits and noise standards on a wide range of noise sources in the city. It is enforced by the Department of Environment along with the Chicago Police Department.
According to the ordinance, “between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., no person on any private open space shall employ any device or instrument that creates or amplifies sound, including but not limited to any … radio or device that plays recorded music, to generate any sound … that is louder than average conversational level at a distance of 100 feet or more from the property line of the property from which the noise is being generated.”
I should note that individuals’ voices do not constitute a nuisance according to this ordinance, though I am sure quite a few of us have felt differently over the years!
A group of West Loop homeowners are currently considering the revocation process for a Randolph Street club. Thus far neighbors feel the club has ignored their concerns about noise and congestion. One resident has taken to documenting the 2 a.m. disturbances. He calls 911 and stays up to record the police response to the scene, which can take 15 or more minutes.
So, these neighbors may begin the process of revoking the club’s liquor license. Interestingly, the process begins when just five residents within 500 feet of the nuisance submit letters of complaint. From their geographic vantage point which includes the stretch of Randolph Street popping with Bon V, Market, Red Kiva and Event One, there are likely plenty more neighbors ready to put pen to paper.
Another place to turn might be your alderman’s office. Alderman Walter Burnett’s office looks to be busy addressing nuisance complaints. A quick look at the city’s calendar shows five of the 15 scheduled community meetings are regarding businesses in his 27th ward, including one for Plush, the West Loop bar at 1104 W. Madison St. Set for July 14 at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall, it is Plush’s third meeting. The owner of Plush is expected to present a corrective plan to the hearing officer, one of the steps in the license revocation process. If the owner fails to provide or follow the corrective plan then action can be taken.
If you are struggling with noise disturbances, the City encourages you to call 311 so you can be routed to the appropriate department. For recurring problems, the city’s website suggests attending a police beat community meeting. If nothing else, you might find a group of similarly concerned residents who also attend CAPS and can track the issue with you. Finding people with flexible work schedules will be important if you want to move forward with the complaint process, as most hearings take place downtown in the middle of the work day. If you’re lucky, you might run into one of those decibel readers while you’re there.