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The Capitol Hill Community Performance Amendment (to Chapter 36 - Noise Control)
Currently, Denver’s noise control ordinance (Chapter 36) exempts permitted festivals (which typically cost money to enter, serve alcohol, and have large budgets) from a certain level of sound level restrictions, but it does not allow for much smaller community DIY events that are alcohol-free, open to the public, and last a far shorter amount of time (under 2 hours) to exist at all. This is true even when those DIY events occur during the afternoon on a weekend or holiday when they are least likely to disturb a neighbor.
This amendment seeks to allow 2-hour long free, public, and alcohol-free shows once per month in any single privately owned location in Capitol Hill. In this way, neighbors near any of these shows would experience the slightly higher sound levels for only a very short period of time. The show’s sound level measured from any nearby residence would be limited to 80 dB(A), which is similar to the sound that heavy traffic makes and is the same level allowed for festivals.
This amendment to the city’s noise control ordinance would allow Wax Trax’s sidewalk shows, which are a summer tradition born during the pandemic, to continue on a monthly basis. It would also open up the possibility of other similar events in other privately-owned locations in Capitol Hill, where many of the city’s musicians live and work.
It also requires the city to use fair sound measurement techniques by using the same “noise descriptor” when making comparisons between ambient neighborhood background sound and any alleged noise.
It's important to review the existing ordinance’s definitions of sound and noise in order to fully understand the amendment language below (we added the emphasis):
(15) Noise means sound that is unwanted and that causes or tends to cause adverse psychological or physiological effects on human beings.
(22) Sound means an oscillation in pressure, stress, particle displacement and particle velocity that induces auditory sensation.
Here is the actual legislative language we hope to have added to the ordinance. Below these additions and subtractions are explanations of each in plain language:
Section 36.2 (definitions):
Live Music Any sound comprised of instrumental music, song, or a combination of instrumental music and song, produced in whole or in part by a singer or multiple singers vocalizing or by a musician or multiple musicians playing musical instrument(s) on the same premises as the sound’s source.
Section 36.2 (definitions):
Capitol Hill Community Performance Any performance of live music by one or two musical acts that lasts no longer than 2 hours, happens not more than once per month at any one location in the confines of the Capitol Hill neighborhood (bounded by Broadway, Downing Street, Colfax Avenue, and Seventh Avenue), is on private property, is completely free of charge and open to the general public, and is not associated with, nor directly adjacent to, any location that sells alcoholic beverages whether established or temporary, licensed or unlicensed.
(c) Any sound pressure level measurements that would be used to compare the ambient sound and the alleged noise shall be measured using the same noise descriptor in an objective manner. In most cases, that noise descriptor should be an Leq measured for a duration of no less than 1 minute. In no case shall different noise descriptors be used to compare ambient sound to an alleged noise.
Section 36.6 - Table A exemptions:
(18) Capitol Hill Community Performances between the hours of 1pm and 4pm on any weekend day or legal holiday, on the condition that production, reproduction, or amplification of sound may not exceed a sound pressure level of eighty (80) dB (A) when measured from the nearest residential premises.
Section 36.2 (18)
Strike the word “not” in sentence two so that it reads as follows:
The vertical and horizontal boundaries of a dwelling unit in a multi-dwelling-unit building, condominium, or townhouse complex shall not be considered property lines separating one (1) premises from another.”
Plain language explanations of the additions and subtractions above:
The Capitol Hill Community Performance Amendment’s goal is to enhance the lives of the residents of Capitol HIll while also creating opportunities for musicians and enhancing the neighborhood’s existing social and artistic character. The amendment provides a new avenue of artistic expression and community vibrancy in a way that avoids negative impacts. It achieves this balance by limiting any show to a 2 hour duration on a weekend or holiday afternoon, with a sound level that doesn’t exceed that of the heavy traffic on Broadway, Colfax, or 13th/14th (80 decibels). They provide low cost venues for artists (a backyard, a privately owned sidewalk, a balcony or patio) and invite neighbors to come enjoy the show.
Explanations of each Addition/Subtraction in detail:
Addition 1 is a simple and widely shared definition of what live music actually is. It is inclusive of all genres of music, including turntablism (the use of turntables as an instrument). However it does not include DJs, and in this way it limits the number of events that would be exempt under the ordinance. This exemption would only be for people playing instruments or vocalizing in some way.
Addition 2 Defines Capitol Hill Community Performances in six key ways, 1.) it is live music (and not recorded music) 2.) it limits the duration of shows to two hours, 3.) it limits their frequency to once a month per location, 4.) it requires them to be on private property, 5.) it requires them to be free and public, 6.) and it requires them to be free from the sale of alcohol–or even adjacent to a bar or other place where alcohol is sold. This last element is what will preserve the all ages nature of the shows without circumventing the cabaret licensing structure established by the city for venues that sell alcohol.
Addition 3 is designed to require the health department’s noise inspectors to use a rigorous scientific method when comparing an alleged noise and the ambient sound in any location. If the ambient sound is measured with Leq (an average of sound intensity over a short period of time) so should the alleged noise be measured with Leq. Certain kinds of sounds are best measured with other noise descriptors aside from Leq, such as L90 (a way of cutting off the sound’s peak intensities) or LMax (the highest peak sound) and the addition is flexible enough to allow for those noise descriptors to be used, as long as ambient sound it is compared to is measured with the same descriptor.
Addition 4 allows for “Capitol Hill Community Performances” (as defined in Addition 2), provided that they have a limited impact on neighbors. They can only occur on a weekend day or holiday between 1pm and 4pm and they cannot be any louder than 80 db(A) for any neighbor. 80db(A) is similar to the sound of traffic on a busy downtown street, such as Broadway, 17th Ave., or 13th Ave.
Subtraction 1 is necessary to protect apartment dwellers whose neighbors within the same building may try to hold an outdoor show (such as on a balcony or patio), and also to measure sound from within an apartment or condo instead of at the closest place in the entire apartment complex to the sound source, which is routinely done now, regardless of where the complainant’s dwelling is in relation to the sound source.