French Quarter sound ordinance on hold while expert holds public meeting

Revisions to New Orleans’ sound ordinance — in particular how it pertains to Bourbon Street and some other sections of the French Quarter — are on hold while the City Council’s hired sound expert conducts a series of meetings to try to allay concerns of residents, club owners and musicians.

David Woolworth will hold three public sessions on sound measurements in the French Quarter, according to Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer’s office, which has been spearheading the effort to draw up revisions.

The first session will be at 3 p.m. Monday at the St. Ann Cottage of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, hosted by the French Quarter Management District. Woolworth will also hold sessions Feb. 24 and March 6, actually heading out into the Quarter to demonstrate how he takes sound readings.

There’s not likely to be a City Council vote before those meetings have wrapped up.

It’s not hard to see why the council would want to allow more time for discussion on the topic. Council members were slated last month to vote on revisions designed to make the existing sound regulations easier for the city to enforce and to cut down on thumping bass lines. But an outcry from musicians, fearful that the change might bring a crackdown on the city’s music culture, derailed the vote.

In the meantime, there’s been growing friction among the French Quarter groups involved in the debate. Two neighborhood organizations — the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates and French Quarter Citizens — said last week they are temporarily suspending their membership in the French Quarter Management District, the state-chartered agency hosting Monday’s meeting. They said the group has become “divisive, contentious and overwhelmingly time-consuming for resident participants” under its current leadership.

VCPORA President Carol Allen said the decision had nothing to do with the noise debate, though it involves some of the principal voices in a back-and-forth that’s been going on for years.

The management district’s chairman, Robert Watters, is the owner of Rick’s Cabaret and has been an outspoken defender of Bourbon Street, while members of the neighborhood groups have singled out the famous strip as a growing nuisance.

Nathan Chapman, a French Quarter resident who chairs a coalition of neighborhood groups involved in talks about the sound ordinance, said it probably doesn’t make sense for the noise discussion to take place under the auspices of the management district, considering the apparent divisions.

“That’s just not the appropriate organization to be leading the discussion of what’s going to happen on Bourbon Street,” Chapman said. “I don’t think we’re in agreement with the Bourbon Street bar owners.”

Meanwhile, French Quarter resident Stuart Smith, a prominent lawyer and longtime crusader against what he considers overly loud bars, has called on the council to fire Woolworth.