Although Niagara-on-the-Lake town councillors said recently they did not want to open a can of worms by considering changes to the Town's noise bylaw, consideration of how to enforce the existing legislation did just that.
Despite a noise bylaw that was approved after extensive consultation and debate six years ago, Niagara-on-the-Lake still has difficulty handling the large number of complaints from neighbours of outdoor events as it attempts to balance residents' complaints with the business rights of those who organize special events.
A discussion about taking another look at noise control at a May council meeting brought resistance from some councillors who hesitated to direct staff to review the bylaw, knowing how much effort and debate went into getting the original legislation written and approved. It was agreed in May that if there was to be a review and changes made to the bylaw, it was not something that could be accomplished overnight.
Instead, council opted instead to have town staff consider ways to better enforce the existing bylaw, and the resulting report from staff was presented to councillors at the July 9 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
But the recommendations in the report to change the noise bylaw, approved by councillors at that committee meeting, were met with opposition from the business community. At last Monday's council meeting, after hearing two deputations opposing the changes to the bylaw, councillors agreed to defer approval and have staff refine the changes.
One of the concerns from the business community was that the amendment referred to noise as anything “unwanted,” a general term that could mean something different to everyone, and that it should be monitored at outdoor events at the edge of the property line of the location where it originated.
The other concern addressed the time of enforcement: the report said complaints have been about outdoor events held primarily in wineries, where noise from live or amplified music is permitted by the current bylaw until 11 p.m. But the recommended amendment does not clearly specify 11 p.m. as a cut-off.
Del Rollo of Jackson Triggs Winery, which offers concerts at its outdoor amphitheatre on weekends, told councillors Monday how important special events are to the success of the wine industry. The single most profitable location for selling wine is at the winery door, he said, with special projects helping to attract people to the winery. Jackson Triggs' amphitheatre holds up to 30 concerts a year – never more than allowed – and the concerts are always finished by 11 p.m., he said. He asked for wording in the bylaw to be clarified to ensure the winery can continue to hold “world-class concerts” until 11 p.m.
Janice Thomson, president of the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, also asked council not to approve the changes in the bylaw. The recommendations and information in the bylaw as proposed are of “great concern” to the chamber and don't reflect “the actual situation in our town,” she said, and the wording and direction appear to be more punitive than co-operative.
She also pointed out a misunderstanding of the of town's tourism industry, demonstrated by the suggestion in the staff report that any changes to the noise bylaw could be made after the tourist season. Businesses in town, including the Shaw Festival, accommodations, restaurants, wineries and breweries, have invested heavily to offer high-quality experiences for tourists year-round, and visitors are confident they can come to NOTL at any time of year to enjoy those quality experiences, she said.
Thomson reminded councillors of the goals set out in the Town's strategic plan, which encourage economic development; strengthening partnerships and listening to the voice of community partners, including wineries; and attracting young people, both as visitors and residents living and working in the community. The proposed changes to the noise bylaw, she said, contradict all three of those goals of the strategic plan.
She also took issue with the monitoring of noise from a property line, saying that would disallow any existing events, including backyard events, sporting activities on Town properties and the operation of machinery, and that the word “outdoor” had been removed from revised bylaw, when the intent of the review was to look at noise from outdoor events.
“While it is clear that the business community and visitors who love Niagara-on-the Lake are not seeking a sterile, silent existence, surely neither are the residents. We have all learned to live as neighbours, to celebrate the joy of each other's special family occasions – maybe it's from the other side of a fence, but it's handled in a respectful fashion and the noise ends by 11 p.m.,” she said.
“We are all reasonable, mature people that need to make an acceptable level of noise around us,” Thomson said, asking council to seek input from residents and the business community and develop reasonable proposal to ensure town-wide objectives are achieved.
After some discussion, councillors agreed to defer the proposed changes so the staff could have another look at the bylaw in time for the current council to review it and make a decision before the October election.