Noise rule change threatens Water Works Park concerts, music supporters say
Des Moines live music supporters say changes to the way the city deals with noise complaints could limit the ability of Water Works Park's $13 million Lauridsen Amphitheater to host outdoor concerts.
City officials are considering changes to how noise is measured once a complaint is made.
Sound greater than 100 decibels when measured 50 feet from a concert's speakers would result in a violation.
Chris Timmons, the owner of Light This Productions, which provides equipment for Des Moines-area concerts, says it might not be possible for concert venues to stay below that standard.
“At 50 feet, every single one of them would’ve been violating the ordinance,” he said.
The 100-decibel maximum is already used for shows at Brenton Skating Plaza. The city is considering extending it to all concert venues, including Simon Estes Amphitheater and Western Gateway Park.
But Timmons and others say Water Works Park is particularly susceptible to violations due to the proximity to homes near the park.
The 515 Alive electric dance music and hip-hop festival, held last summer at Water Works Park, rattled windows in nearby neighborhoods and drew complaints from residents.
They "lit us up," Councilman Chris Coleman said during a meeting last month.
The City Council passed the first reading of the ordinance in March, but members pledged to hold off on final approval until city staff could meet with Des Moines Water Works officials and music industry representatives this week.
SuAnn Donovan, the city’s neighborhood inspections administrator, said the city's noise ordinance is enforced only when a complaint is received.
Des Moines police are tasked with taking readings.
If the sound measures higher than 100 decibels, the police officer will ask the sound engineers to tamp down the volume, Donovan said. If the concert organizers refuse, the officer can issue a citation, which could result in a $750 fine.
Donovan said she wasn’t aware of any noise complaints from venues like Simon Estes or Brenton Skating Plaza. Concerts at Water Works Park, however, have drawn multiple complaints in the past, she said.
Community Development Director Chris Johansen said concerts at other venues in downtown Des Moines might be exceeding noise limits but not drawing complaints.
The change would alter how police officers measure sound when responding to a complaint.
Under the current rule, measurements are taken at the residence closest to the concert venue. Donovan said that’s harder for the city to enforce because it takes officers longer to get to the closest house, and by then, the music could’ve changed or stopped.
Taking sound measurements 50 feet from a speaker is easier and quicker, she said.
But Sam Carrell, executive director of the Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation, said the city is setting a standard that, in most cases, is unattainable.
“I think if you went to any concert and measured at 50 feet from the speakers, you’d find you’re probably out of compliance probably most of the time,” he said.
Carrell said Water Works Park has taken steps to reduce noise bleeding onto adjacent properties, starting by building the amphitheater on the eastern edge of the park, farthest away from south of Grand homes.
The foundation also will employ directional speakers and end all events by 11 p.m., earlier than the city requires on weekends, he said.
“We do want to make sure we can that we can guarantee a good experience for the concertgoers (while) at the same time being a good neighbor with the surrounding community,” Carrell said.
British rock band The Struts is scheduled to play the first show at the Lauridsen Amphitheater on July 15.