HAMPTON — A question on the March Town Meeting ballot to amend the town’s entertainment ordinance aims to give residents more control over entertainment related noise from businesses that have at times outraged local neighborhoods. Developed following an incident where a number of residents complained about a loud music concert at a business on the west side of town, Article 34, if passed, will amend the town’s current Entertainment Activities Ordinance, according to Town Manager Jamie Sullivan. It’s intended to control loud disruptions to citizens peace and quiet, remove the ambiguities that made enforcement problematic, and give the owners of entertainment venues a clear picture of what is and isn’t permitted.“Most businesses want to be good neighbors,” Sullivan said.The amendments were developed by a committee of resident and business stakeholders from both uptown and the beach. The committee included Sullivan, Selectwoman Amy Hansen, Police Chief Alex Reno, former police chief David Hobbs, as well as residents James Scully and Mallory LeDuc, and business owners Al Fleury and Andy Hart.Reno said his department deals regularly with noise complaints. If its loud patrons leaving a beach bar disturbing the neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, Reno said, officers can and do deal with that fairly easily by making arrests for disturbing the peace.But when it comes to loud music at a venue with an entertainment license, Reno said, the current ordinance left a lot to be desired and he and Hobbs discussed that with the committee.“We’re law enforcers not law creators,” Reno said. “We explained that whatever they did, we hoped they made it enforceable. Steps were taken to remove the subjectivity in the ordinance and to create a basis for enforcement.”
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How loud is too loud in Hampton?
According to Sullivan, who is a former police chief in Hampton, a problematic portion of the current entertainment ordinance is the noise level decibel standard. In the current ordinance, it is unlawful for the sound to go beyond the licensees’ property boundaries at a level of about 75 decibels for a period of 30 seconds.
The Police Department does have decibel reading equipment, he said, but the 30-second requirement was difficult for police to enforce because sound volume, especially music, wavers constantly. To remedy that situation, the amendment sets a noise level violation at 10 seconds, Sullivan said.
New ordinance would restrict hours for entertainment activities
The proposed amendment would restrict the playing of music or other sound-related activity to specific days and hours, Sullivan said.
According to the amendment, entertainment activity would not be allowed between 1 a.m. and noon on any day of the week; outside entertainment would only be allowed between noon and 11:59 p.m. in the beach and industrial districts.
Additionally, entertainment activity would not be allowed between 9 p.m. and noon Sunday to Thursday, or between 11:59 p.m. to noon Friday and Saturday in the Route 1 town district area.
Outdoor entertainment would only be allowed from Memorial Day to Columbus Day – the town’s major tourist season – and it would only take place between noon and 11:59 p.m. where allowed.
Sullivan said under the amended ordinance, selectmen would have to approve any entertainment activities expected to draw 1,500 people or more. According to Sullivan, presently, that would include such venues as Smuttynose Brewing Co. and the Casino Ballroom.
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New rules for issuance of entertainment licenses
The amendment deletes previous wording related to the authority to regulate and issue entertainment licenses, simplifying it while maintaining that such duties rest in the hands of the selectmen, who will set the license fee.
It stipulates “no person shall engage in or provide an entertainment activity in any building or premises without first having obtained a license from the board” and that the board will set the criteria. It also adds that any temporary licenses granted “shall be valid for the period specified” on the temporary license.
The lengthy clauses concerning the “transfer” of licenses would be deleted by the amendment, for a simple sentence that states entertainment licenses issued by selectmen may only be “transferred to another with approval of the board or shall be deemed void.”
The proposed amendment would allow the board to hold hearings if complaints came in “from the public,” concerning those with entertainment activity licenses. The current ordinance stipulates complaints sparking possible board hearings must come “from abutters.”
The amendment would allow that before license suspensions or revocations, licensees can have an opportunity to mediate with the complainants in an effort to come to an agreeable solution.
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Changes to ordinance definitions
For the first time, the amendment defines where entertainment activities may be, confining them to town zoning districts: including the beach district, as well as zones G and B; town center south, north and the historic district; and all the properties located in the town’s industrial zones.
To the list of current establishments where entertainment activities are allowed, the amendment would add the phrase to include those that have “a valid on-premises liquor license issued by the state or a dance hall license issued by the town.”
It also adds “outdoor activities” to the clause related to selectmen issuing “Temporary Entertainment Licenses.”
Registered voters will have an opportunity to discuss this amendment and other warrant articles at the first session of Town Meeting, the deliberative session, on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 8:30 a.m. at the Hampton Academy gym. Registered voters can vote on all warrant articles at the second session of Town Meeting, set for Tuesday, March 14, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. at Winnacunnet High School.