Bill would limit noise restrictions at Merriweather

Howard County state lawmakers are considering a bill that would prevent the county government from adopting any ordinance that would limit sound levels at large outdoor concert venues, such as Merriweather Post Pavilion.

While residents have voiced concerns in the past about excessive noise from the Columbia concert venue and opposition to the bill already has surfaced among Merriweather neighbors, delegation co-Chairman Del. Guy Guzzone, a Columbia Democrat, and Merriweather officials say the bill would not change anything.

"Basically what this does is codify the existing practice of shows going to 11 p.m.," Guzzone said.

The bill under consideration by the delegation would prevent Howard County from banning the electronic amplification of sound between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. at an outdoor concert venue with a capacity of more than 15,000 individuals. Merriweather 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 that limit to 11 p.m.

Merriweather spokeswoman Audrey Fix Schaefer said Merriweather asked the delegation for this change in order to "update the code to a more practical application which will reflect the way we've operated for years.

"The music will play as before; no changes to sound volume and we will continue to end shows no later than 11 p.m.," she said in an email response to a question.

Guzzone and his delegation co-chairman, Sen. James N. Robey, an Elkridge Democrat, submitted the proposed bill.

Del. Liz Bobo, a Columbia Democrat whose district includes Merriweather, said she was asked to propose the bill, but declined.

"I'm just concerned with whether it's necessary to do this," she said.

While Merriweather is a "very valuable asset" to the community, Bobo said, residents' concerns must be taken into account.

Laura Mueller, who has lived in Town Center for two years,

said she has heard every concert at Merriweather since she moved there.

A licensed acupuncturist, she said there are numerous health effects associated with excessive sound levels including hearing loss, sleep disruption, reduced productivity, increased drug use and anti-social behavior.

"We're setting an example in behavior that it's not important to have a restful time," she said.

Mueller objected to the state not allowing the county to set its own noise limits. "Laws need to stay local in order to be enforced," she said.

Schaefer said Merriweather has received a handful of complaints in the past year, including some on nights when there were no shows.

"We've been a good neighbor. and that will always be the case," she said.

The Howard County delegation will host a public hearing on the noise restriction bill, as well as other local legislation that will be taken up in next year's General Assembly session, on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m., in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

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