City Council bans ‘unreasonable’ loud noise during daytime to reduce large parties on University Hill

A car damaged in a riot on University Hill in March 2021. (Io Hartman/CU Independent)

A year and a half after a riot on University Hill shattered windows and overturned a car, city officials have adopted a policy they hope will prevent such an event from happening again: they have prohibits “unreasonably” amplified noises that can be heard 200 yards away.

All Boulder residents will be required to keep loud noises to a minimum, even during the day, thanks to updated city noise ordinances passed by City Council on Thursday, September 1. The ordinance will also allow police officers to issue tickets for loud noises amplified noise without complaining.

“If an officer determines that the amplified noise during the day is egregious and constitutes a nuisance party violation, the officer may order attendees to cease the social gathering and disperse immediately,” said Deputy City Attorney Sandra Llanes during a presentation to council members.

In an 8-1 vote, the city council passed the ordinance after two hours of public discussion and comment. The Emergency Noise Ordinance will take effect immediately, as opposed to the standard 30-day waiting period, specifically to match the start of the University of Colorado Boulder’s academic year. Some university students and members of Greek Life say the policy is unnecessary, while other residents and at least one city official say the ordinances should not apply citywide.

The new noise regulations were first presented to council in June 2022 and are part of a larger set of solutions proposed by the University Hill Revitalization Task Force (HRWG). The group is made up of Hill residents and CU Boulder student government representatives, as well as city and university officials.

The task force was established in 2015 and tasked with improving the “quality of life” on the Hill after a riot that took place in March 2021. Several university students were arrested after the riot, which toppled a car and badly damaged a police SWAT vehicle.

“A more peaceful and welcoming environment.”

The city’s old noise ordinance prohibited loud electronically amplified noise, such as music through a speaker, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Now, that prohibition extends to any unreasonably loud amplified noise that can be heard about a block away and 100 feet away at night, any time of the day.

Police will not be required to use a decibel meter to determine if the noise is loud enough to issue a ticket.

“Because of this new order, [police] will be able to follow the 200 feet to determine if there has been a violation or not, so that makes it really simple,” Llanes said.

Officers will also be able to fine violators of noise ordinances without receiving a complaint. Previous rules required a neighbor to sign a complaint form before officers could ticket residents or landlords. Now supporters say the ordinance will speed up response times and put the task of enforcing noise limits in the hands of the police.

Part of the purpose of the order is to stop major parties before they spiral out of control, which officials say was one of the factors that caused the March 2021 riot.

“A lot of parties start earlier and then they grow,” Llanes said. “Unfortunately, by the time we are allowed to apply at 11 p.m., they have grown to an unmanageable size. This will give us the opportunity to address them earlier.

While the noise ordinance takes effect across the city, it is expected to have the most impact on the Boulder neighborhoods that receive the most noise complaints, according to Brenda Ritenour, the city’s neighborhood liaison officer.

“[The ordinance] would create a more peaceful and welcoming environment for everyone,” Ritenour said, reading feedback the city has received from residents in support of the new regulations. “It would provide a clear standard of expectation for neighbors, and it could improve relations between students and neighbors in the University Hill neighborhood.”

The ban does not apply to unamplified noise, such as crowds, lawn mowers or cars. Some exceptions also apply to amplified noise; fire alarms, sirens, or noise from a city-sanctioned event will not be subject to the ordinance.

For the HRWG, this change is just the start of a series of proposals it first sent to the city council for consideration in early summer. The group is proposing additional penalties for noise and litter violations, as well as owner training and new methods of cleaning up litter.

“Better to do than deal with noise ordinances.”

Devin Cramer, acting dean of students at CU Boulder, supports the new order. Cramer said the change in city policy will allow CU Boulder to intervene more often when student behavior is reported to the university by Boulder police.

“This municipal code change may increase [Boulder Police] referrals, thereby increasing our early interventions, changing behaviors and creating a more cohesive Hill environment,” he said.

Of the nine city council members, only council member Nicole Speer voted against the proposal. She expressed concern that the ordinance would apply citywide and suggested a pilot project where the new noise rules would only apply to the Hill area.

During the public comments, 16 people spoke in front of the municipal council. Eight people, former and current Hill residents, spoke in favor of the proposal.

“The intense stress [the noise] brings people caused neighbors to flee the neighborhood, which hastened its decline,” said Lisa Nelson, HRWG member and representative of the University Hill Neighborhood Association. “Then these houses were bought by investors, who filled them with more students.

Eight other residents, including six members of the CU Boulder fraternity, expressed concern about the new regulations.

“Police had better things to do than deal with noise ordinances,” said Evan Humphrey, a CU Boulder junior and president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. “We are able to handle these issues on our own and are more than happy to listen to the police we work with.”

Many of the residents who opposed the ordinance are members of the Undergraduate Interfraternity Council at UC (IFC on the Hill), a student-run group that oversees 23 fraternities on the Hill. Members of IFC on the Hill say they were not consulted on the proposed change to the noise ordinances.

“Rather than a resident calling a noise complaint, residents expect the Boulder Police Department to walk around with sound meters in their cars, writing down any noise violations police can find,” said Mike Smith, an IFC on the Hill Greek Advocate, in a statement provided to the CU Independent.

Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold, who was present at the council meeting, objected to the idea that officers could be more effective elsewhere.

“The community harm caused by big parties is real,” Herold said. “[There is] there is no better use of a police officer’s time than making sure the community is not harmed.

Contact CU Freelance Editor Henry Larson at [email protected].

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