Merriweather noise legislation gets earful from both sides

Proposed state legislation that would prevent Howard County from putting noise restrictions at Merriweather Post Pavilion drew mixed reaction during public testimony Dec. 19 before the Howard County Delegation.

The bill, requested by Merriweather, would prevent Howard County or any local government subsidiary from banning the electronic amplification of sound between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. at an outdoor concert venue with a capacity of more than 15,000 individuals.

Merriweather, built in 1967, is the only such venue in the county.

The county's current noise ordinance requires the decibel level at surrounding residential properties to drop from a maximum of 65 during the day to 55 at 10 p.m. The proposed bill would extend the decibel level of 65 to 11 p.m.

Merriweather General Manager Jean Parker said the venue has not been in violation of sound ordinances over the past 10 years and is only seeking to update the county code to reflect how Merriweather has operated for years.

"When examining the sound restrictions it is apparent the current code is simply not practical for outdoor venues," Parker said at the hearing. "It should reflect how a venue operates instead of saddling the county with unrealistic monitoring and enforcement."

But for every speaker who testified in favor of the bill, there was a resident who opposed the proposed legislation.

Residents opposed to the bill said the music at Merriweather is already too loud, noise ordinances are not being enforced and they are concerned that state legislators may be overstepping their bounds by creating a county noise ordinance.

Some residents testified that their windows and doors have shook during a Merriweather concert, even though their homes are a mile away.

Those in favor of the bill said they knew about possible noise issues when moving to the area, and that the concert venue is an important Columbia icon.

Ian Kennedy, a Columbia resident and co-founder of Save Merriweather, an advocacy group formed in 2003 to prevent development on Merriweather property, said the noise ordinance as it is currently written is "too tight" for the concert venue.

"I know there are concerns about the long-term impact of a noise ordinance that won't allow it to operate as it currently does," he said.

Linda Wengel, vice chairwoman of the Town Center village board, called the proposed bill "unacceptable," and asked the delegation to reject the legislation.

"Our board values the economic and entertainment Merriweather provides and we certainly want Merriweather to prosper, but public policy must find a balance between economic benefits and quality of life issues," Wengel said.

County noise regulations currently mirror the state code, according to council member Mary Kay Sigaty, who testified at the hearing.

Sigaty said she was not testifying against or in favor of the bill, but instead wanted to clarify current county law.

While the county council cannot adopt legislation that allows Merriweather to be louder or run concerts longer than they can now, Sigaty said the county could pass legislation that limits Merriweather's house and sound levels.

Sigaty said, when asked by Del. Liz Bobo, she is concerned of a precedent being set with the state implementing a law limiting the powers of the County Council.

"As a local elected, no, I really don't like having a law that says I can not help my local constituents," Sigaty said.

Howard County Director of Communications David Nitkin said County Executive Ken Ulman is a "strong supporter of Merriweather Post Pavilion and supports the noise ordinance legislation as being in the best interests of the facility."

Proposal to extend hunting

A bill in front of the delegation that would extend hunting on private property on six Sundays during hunting season drew opposition from the equestrian community.

Residents opposed to the bill said they believe that six days a week is already enough for hunters to hunt.

"Can't we have one day for people who just want to go out and enjoy [trails] without fear," said Lisbon resident Pat Oliva, an avid horseback rider.

The proposed bill would remove Howard County from the list of counties in which deer hunting on private property on certain Sundays is prohibited.

It would add one day of firearm hunting and five days of bow hunting, according to Jim Raine, a Carroll County resident, who asked Del. Gail Bates to submit the legislation.

Bates district was changed recently during redistricting to include parts of Carroll County.

Raine said the legislation is similar to laws recently enacted in Frederick and Carroll counties.

He believes it would be an "important step for Howard County" by helping to reduce the number of deer deaths on the roadway and controlling the county deer population.

Oliva was one of more than 10 residents to testify opposing the proposed hunting legislation.

Residents opposed to the legislation said they wanted to be able to enjoy the outdoors on a Sunday without be worried about hunting accidents.

Bates, representing district 9A, said she is neither for or against the legislation as is, but brought it before the delegation for discussion.

Following public testimony, Bates said there is "probably room for change" in the bill based upon resident's comments.

"I haven't quite decided where I will go on this," she said.

At one point in the hearing, Del. Guy Guzzone asked residents for and against the legislation to each stand.

More than 20 residents stood in opposition, while nine stood in favor of the legislation.

The county administration has not taken a position on the hunting legislation, Nitkin said.

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