Nearly two months after Merriweather Post Pavilion's Sweet Life Festival, County Executive Allan Kittleman has responded to community complaints that noise levels during the festival's final performance reached as far as Columbia and Ellicott City.
Several residents noted the intense sounds peaked around 10 p.m. on May 31, during D.J. Calvin Harris' main stage performance. Merriweather representatives could not confirm whether Harris' performance exceeded the decibel level set in 2013 by the state.
On Tuesday, Kittleman sent a letter to Howard County's Citizens Association President Stu Kohn, describing Merriweather as "one of Howard County's gems and a tremendous economic development asset."
But, Kittleman said, an outdoor venue does come with challenges.
"As a result of the noise violations on May 30 and 31, the County's Department of Health issued two citations — one for exceeding the noise levels and another for going past the prescribed time limit of 11 p.m.," the letter read.
Maryland Department of Environmental Health inspectors were at the venue and surrounding areas during the festival recording decibel levels. Health department spokeswoman Lisa de Hernandez said "both citations were recently paid" by Merriweather.
In addition to working with the health department and Howard County police, Kittleman ensured that Merriweather management will comply with the current noise ordinance and make any changes necessary to control show sound levels in the future.
In his letter, Kittleman listed the following as Merriweather's plans to control the sound levels:
"Contractually, we will make it clear that there are fines associated with excessive sound levels.
When there are any additional stages, we will be more focused on the direction of the sound propagation from these stages so it will not go directly into the community.
We will be limiting the number of speaker cabinets placed directly on the concrete to reduce reverberation.
We will be angling the raised speakers downward toward the audiences versus emanating straight out over the lawn and into the community — note that the new raised roof which is part of the next construction phase will help to facilitate this change.
We are implementing sound cancelling technologies and keeping up to speed on other emerging technologies.
We will continue to remind the artists' production personnel about the show decibel levels throughout the day and evening as needed."
After recognizing the community's concerns, Kohn said he knew the HCCA had to take action. Now, Kohn is pleased to see the county is on top of the issue as well.
"The good news is that at least something is attempting to be done," Kohn said. "It wasn't only Columbia [residents who heard the sounds], but people were feeling vibrations and hearing noise as far as three, four, and five miles away. ... One hopes that there are enforcements on this issue. When one breaks the rules, whoever they are, they have to face the penalty."
Kohn said hearing back from Kittleman has left him "in a positive mood."
Merriweather Communication Director Audrey Fix Schaefer said the venue is also "satisfied" with the county's response.
"As we have said, our goal is nothing short of trying to be the best neighbors we can be," Schaefer said.
According to Town Center Village Manager Jeryl Baker, the village board sent a letter to state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer last week, requesting a community meeting on the issue. While the senator was willing to plan the meeting for early September, Baker said the board has cancelled any plans for the time being.
"It is clear that the county has set down some very specific actions to be taken to monitor the sound level at concerts, to reduce the sound levels, to encourage resident reports and enforcement/citations for violations," Baker said via email. "The steps outlined from Merriweather management are concrete and measureable."
Baker said the board will continue to monitor the situation as some residents still do not find the current decibel levels appropriate.
Later in the letter, Kittleman also discussed community concerns about possible noise levels from events at the proposed Inner Arbor, stating he reached out to the Inner Arbor Trust and that “the trust will comply with all ordinances and sound regulations.”