Warm spring breezes drifting through Buckhead invite open living room windows or dinner on the balcony for residents. For visitors, the neighborhood’s music scene shifts outdoors. Usually they exist in harmony. But when the decibels cause a disturbance, cops say call 911.
“Noise in Buckhead is about as old as Buckhead, but it really got out of hand last fall,” according to Spencer Roane, whose home is in a high-rise building that overlooks the blocks of restaurants and bars around the intersection of Peachtree Street and Roswell Road.
He got even more frustrated when he tried to get answers from officials with the city of Atlanta about the noise and an outdoor event at the nearby Buckhead Saloon. He eventually found, after months of correspondence, he said, that to run outdoor events and serve alcohol, it takes approval from two different city departments and navigating the different regulations for different permits.
And “invariably these things happen on Friday or Saturday night when everything [official] is closed,” Roane told a handful of neighbors and the three Atlanta police officers who came to meet the group on April 8 and talk about how to fight illegal noise.
“Go ahead and call 911,” said Atlanta Police Department Zone Two Commander Maj. Robert Browning. “Just tell them you’ve got noise.”
There’s even a special police unit that goes into action on Friday and Saturday nights that a 911 dispatcher can send to handle permit violations.
“When we get complaints, we tell them to shut down,” said Browning.
But there are two sets of rules: One involves the noise ordinance; the other is the set of rules on a permit for a special event.
First, the police-enforced noise ordinance applies on a standard business day, no especially large crowd. In that case, after 9 p.m., bars and restaurants must keep patrons and bands in and around the building or on the deck and they can’t be loud enough to be heard 50 feet away.
But a so-called special event or festival allows more beats later into the night. To serve alcohol to such revelers requires a temporary permit from Atlanta police. But the permit for the special event itself goes through the mayor’s office. A bar can get up to six of them a year, and they regulate outdoor gatherings of more than 75 people.
That means a massive Paul McCartney concert in Piedmont Park actually requires a permit from the same mayoral office as 76 bar patrons rocking in a parking lot under a tent.
And like Paul McCartney, a legally permitted Buckhead “festival” is allowed to make loud noise and run past 2 a.m.
But if the neighbors don’t like festival racket, “then complain to us through the Mayor’s Office of Special Events,” APD Sgt. B.C. Williams told the Buckhead neighbors. He’s in charge of permitting all kinds of special events and does more than 500 per year.
“If I get lots of complaints, I’ll see it next time they ask for a permit,” said Williams, explaining that he can then perhaps put a time limit on the festival.
Special event permit applications also come before the city’s neighborhood planning units for citizen input. However, in the name of commerce and doing business, it’s very difficult to turn down a permit that’s simply asking for a festival.
Promised Browning, “we’re not going to have the same number of issues this year as last year.” Roane’s original complaint stemmed from an outdoor bar event in fall 2010 that did not have the special event permit it needed.
The current permit regime is only a few years old, Williams said, so some party planners may not be 100 percent clear yet.
A calendar of special events is on the City of Atlanta website at http://www.atlantaga.gov/Calendars/SpecialEvents.aspx.
By Maggie Lee