How loud is too loud? Beach town still wonders
Alex Lanier entertains hotel guests at the Blockade Runner on Saturday afternoon. Residents in the house seen in the background have been complaining the music is too loud.

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH | Mary Martin believes this town’s century-old reputation and tradition as a public beach, where visitors from across the state have always been welcomed, has been jeopardized by newly proposed noise laws.

A special meeting has been called for 5:30 p.m. Monday at Town Hall, where officials will decide whether to add several sweeping changes to an existing noise ordinance that’s difficult at best to enforce and viewed, by some residents, as too lenient.

The new stricter laws, if passed, would make it illegal to play music anytime day or night that could be heard 75 feet from its source. Noises related to commercial and residential activities, like unloading or loading boxes, crates and garbage cans, would be illegal if someone finds them disturbing between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Also illegal at all hours would be any mechanical noise that registers higher than 55 decibels at the nearest complainant’s property line.

Conversational speech heard from a foot away typically registers about 70 decibels. A shotgun blast registers about 140 decibels and average traffic, about 85.

“The whole environment will change forever. This will affect everyone” including various private clubs, said Mrs. Martin, a co-owner of the Blockade Runner resort. Mrs. Martin has spent the past 20 years managing – and sometimes living at – the resort, which offers live music.

Mrs. Martin says she thinks her family, which owns the resort, has been targeted by neighbors who can’t be satisfied. A neighbor declined to comment when contacted Saturday.

“It’s not like this used to be a funeral home,” Mrs. Martin said, adding that historically, the property has played a large part of the town’s hospitality draw since the late 1800s. And now she said, “We always maintain a family friendly beach environment. It’s not like we’re doing midnight sessions here.”

On weekends from 1 to 5 p.m., a man with an acoustic guitar, microphone and an amplifier plays music outside for the hotel’s guests. “This is a beach. It’s a resort. You come here for entertainment,” said Ann Gore, who drove in from Charlotte to stay the weekend at the Blockade Runner with her husband, who declined to be identified.

The couple spent part of their Saturday afternoon sitting on the patio listening to the music and talking. “A lot of people who come here on vacation expect this stuff,” Mrs. Gore said. Both agreed that the new stricter rules would affect their plans to come back, and that frightens Mrs. Martin.

She said the Blockade Runner and the other major hotels like the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort and the various commercial properties around town attract local and tourist dollars alike. Mrs. Martin said they also represent Wrightsville Beach’s largest taxpayers.

The new laws would also make it difficult for businesses or residents to entertain. Wrightsville Beach is a popular place to hold weddings. Whether it’s at a private residence or the Blockade Runner, a town-approved permit is needed for any special event, like a wedding. But under the proposed changes those permits would be harder to get and more restrictive.

Under the changes, a person would submit a request for the permit and notify the occupants of each property within a 500-foot radius. At that point the person would have to submit an affidavit to the town stating that such notices had been mailed or otherwise delivered.

Locations, commercial or residential, would be limited to 20 hours worth of permits per year. And during those events, 70 decibels would be the threshold of violation.

Penalties for violating the new rules would begin at $100 for the first offense

Wrightsville Beach residents speak out on noise

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH | A standing-room only crowd packed Wrightsville Beach’s special meeting on toughening the town’s noise ordinance Monday.

The town’s existing regulations use a “reasonable person” standard to determine violations of the noise ordinance, said Andy Honeycutt, the town manager. Police must interpret if music or partying is too loud based on what a reasonable person would find appropriate.

But that technique leads to problems, Mr. Honeycutt said. It is too subjective and hard to enforce.

Monday, the town examined stricter limits that would be easier to measure and enforce. Under the proposals, mechanical noise would be in violation of the ordinance if it were louder than 55 decibels. Amplified music would be in violation if it were “plainly audible” from another’s property.

Supporters said the noise ordinance would give them a respite that some said they have been wanting for years.

The normal noise of vacationers was no problem, said Mary Gornto, Wilmington’s former city manager and now the Vice Chancellor for Advancement at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. But live music coming from the Blockade Runner Hotel made conversation impossible on her porch and in her house, she said.

But the proposals brought howls from residents and business people who said the regulations were anathema to a resort town’s spirit. Many said the proposals were an attempt to settle the long-running feud between certain residents and the Blockade Runner at the cost of shackling the whole town with a restrictive set of rules.

Bill Baggett, one of the owners of the Blockade Runner, said the hotel had never been found in violation despite many calls about it. He said the police who stopped by always found the noise reasonable.

The board took no action after the meeting, but would likely revisit the issue at its Aug. 8 meeting, said Trey Jordan, an alderman.

Several aldermen said they were sensitive to complaints, especially about the Blockade Runner, but were uncertain the new standards were the answer.

Alderman Barry Mowbray said he had trouble with a law that would make somebody a violator just because another property owner can hear his radio playing.

“Anyone who complains is a judge,” he said.

Mr. Jordan said he totally opposed the proposed decibel limits, which would disallow an event resulting in noise more than 70 decibels on another’s property.

A toilet flush measures around 75 decibels, Mr. Jordan said.

“I don’t want to go to a party where it’s not louder than a toilet flush,” he said