Cover Story: Houston's Controversial Noise Ordinance

Categories: Longform

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In this week's cover story, Houston Press examined the effects of the citywide sound ordinance, which Houston City Council passed on October 10.

While a Houston Police Department officer is confident that the noise ordinance task force (whose members aren't required to carry decibel meters) is doing a good job, critics think the law is framed in a language vague enough to allow enforcers wide latitude in interpreting "loud noise."

Since the passing of the ordinance, which dissenters say has flipped from an objective law to a subjective one, venues in the Montrose, the Heights, Midtown, on Washington Avenue and a club outside of Loop 610 have been nailed with fines that can top out at $1,000 per violation.

The Southwest Freeway-area Swagger Lounge and Montrose hipster haven Boondocks have led the way with violations. Swagger has received a total of ten tickets and Boondocks' owner Shawn Bermudez was cuffed and hauled to the HPD central lockup on February 25, even though Bermudez had gone to great lengths to soundproof his Westheimer Road venue.

The Greater Houston Entertainment Coalition Political Action Committee, a grassroots organization that has started a petition in hopes of changing the ordinance, argues that due to the law's fuzzy language, club owners have no way of knowing if they're getting it right or wrong.

Meanwhile, Council Member Ed Gonzalez says that a sweet spot between an active nightlife scene and the rights of property owners could be accomplished through the establishment of entertainment districts. But at the moment, there's no way to tell if that could ever work in anti-zoning Houston.

Read "Sound Effects," this week's feature, for a comprehensive look at the new ordinance and how it's being implemented.

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Hootiewhobaca RO
Hootiewhobaca RO

 There is nothing confusing about this law its just an excuse for the police to do whatever they want. Its like getting pulled over because you or the car you drive looks suspicious. It's more unconstitutional than cryptic. This ordinance is anti-business plain and simple. Cops have always done whatever they want this is nothing new but pulling a shotgun on someone is outrageous. Before this ordinance was passed they were supposed to provide a reading from a decible meter but it didn't matter if you were standing right next to that officer with your own meter and both of them were reading under what was considered to be a violation of the law and they'd shut you down anyway. I'm glad they've decided to take another look at the poor decision our public servants agreed to pass 13-1. The article states that Councilman Gonzalez voted for the ordinance yet he is the one who asked to take another look at the matter. Its tough to say whether he blindly votes on issues that graze his desk or that he is actually taking time to consider the real impact on Houston's economy, ant the prejudice and unfairness that is a direct result of allowing nothing but discretion. It seems like the guy in Montrose (not The Montrose-- hipsters below) who apparently made a ridiculous number of complaints was bitching more about public sexual activity and illicit drug use in his neighborhood than loud noise coming from a liscensed establishment. Attaching sex and drugs to music being played too loud because sex drugs and rock and roll sound good together is a stretch. You can't connect those three things and then equate them without making a jump. Most of the establishments along Westheimer between Shepherd and Lousiaana were there long before he moved there. Does anyone remember when Westfest wasn't confined to a block before it vanished? A solution proposed by Mr. Gonzalez is to create districts in a city with no zoning laws. What about residences that border one of these districts? I agree that people should be able to have peace and quiet in the privacy of their own home but it shouldn't be at the expense of others. People choose where they want to live but why did the cry baby from Montrose put his tail between his legs and moved-- Didn't he get what he wanted? Our city council members should have supported local businesses from the beginning. The notion that this is some type of money maker for the city to make up for red light cameras (which still aren't down) is bullshit. This is an attack on the arts, local business, musicians, and people going out to have a good time. In a city of over 4 million this should not be anywhere near the top of any police officer's list of things to do. Who is being served and what is being protected?


It isn' 'THE' Montrose. And reading the Press makes me very happy to have relocated out of  "THE" Harris County.


I was calling it "Montrose" and moving out of "THE" Harris County" before it was cool.


 dear snarky asshole,

it has been 'the montrose' for some time. a streetcar line called 'the montrose line' possibly had something to do with that. either way, the author did not make that up, i've heard it for a very long time. you might not dig it, but it's fact, sorry charlie

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