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Baltimore County Council members, residents object to bill that would expand live music

Baltimore County Council members and residents took issue with what they called potential “unintended consequences” of proposed zoning changes that would allow hundreds more restaurants to hold live music.

Pushed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, the New Opportunities for Tourism and Entertainment — or NOTE — Act would enable restaurants, bars and other businesses to hold live musical entertainment by amending zoning rules in areas where live music is currently prohibited.

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The council is due to vote on the bill at its Monday meeting.

But residents and some council members are skeptical of how the county would enforce its noise ordinance, which stipulates a maximum of 65 decibels during the day and 55 decibels at night.

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Others say the enforcement mechanism, which would allow several local agencies to shut down a restaurant for the evening should it violate the law, is too severe.

The bill is modeled after 2019 legislation that changed zoning rules in Arbutus and Catonsville. If it passes, businesses that make most of their money before 9 p.m. would be eligible to apply for a yearlong permit to host live or recorded music.

Other than in Arbutus and Catonsville, live music is permitted only at nightclubs on property zoned for Business Major and Business Roadside use.

Under the NOTE Act, the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals, Inspections, as well as the police and fire departments and the health department, could enforce noise violations .

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Several speakers and a councilman noted that county code enforcement inspectors do not carry decibel readers, which monitor sound levels.

“How in the world is this gonna be enforced?” asked Republican Councilman Todd Crandell during a Tuesday night council meeting. “Are we going to get a code enforcement inspector [out] on a Saturday at 10 p.m. [and make the] subjective decision as to whether the place is a nuisance or not?”

Antoine Simmons, a Rosedale resident, said he lives within 200 feet of a restaurant that routinely plays loud music indoors, affecting his quality of life.

The restaurant is violating zoning regulations by playing music, he said.

Simmons, who has been at odds with the restaurant since 2008, said he contacts the police about the noise because county code enforcement has not addressed his complaints.

But “these officers have better things to do than to police a business that has no intention of following the law as written,” he said.

Mike Mohler, chief administrator for the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, which would issue the music permits, said most restaurants want to be able to host jazz brunches on a Saturday and acoustic guitar performances in the afternoon.

Kelly Carter said guests of her coffee and wine shop, the Grind & Wine Cafe in Randallstown, have requested live jazz brunches. A music permit would allow her to do that.

“I do not wish to disturb the people of the community,” she said. “A lot of my customers want to stay local. They do not want to travel to Baltimore City for live entertainment.”

Others who testified said nearby restaurant owners haven’t been so accommodating. In Edgemere, several neighbors said they have been embroiled in a lawsuit for 16 years with a former owner of Dock of the Bay restaurant, which has played live music despite being prohibited from doing so under current regulations.

Those residents requested an amendment to the bill that limits how close businesses may be to a home to be eligible for a permit.

Mohler said earlier in the meeting that an amendment would be added to the bill that would disqualify businesses abutting a residential property line from obtaining a permit for outdoor music performances.

But Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Democrat, said that restriction could hurt waterfront businesses in her district that she said “have been playing [music] outside for years.”

“These are the guys that you know aren’t having problems,” Bevins said. “These are the players that work with their communities. … You would be cutting them to the knees with this.”

Democratic council chair Julian Jones said the bill goes too far in allowing county agencies to shut down a business that violates the noise ordinance.

Mohler contended that businesses wouldn’t be shuttered for the night “absent of something egregious.”

“There is no intent whatsoever to shut down a business,” he said.

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