Enforcement, bigger fines discussed
Violators of Winthrop’s noise restrictions may be subject to stricter enforcement, and higher fines, if the Town Council follows through on its intent to review and revise the municipal code.
At its meeting last week the council revisited the noise issue, which was placed on the agenda by Mayor Sally Ranzau after the topic was raised at an earlier meeting.
The issue centers on live music at downtown restaurants after 10 p.m., a subject of recent complaints.
At last week’s meeting, council member William Kilby suggested that the ordinance “needs a complete makeover” because in some cases it is too specific.
Winthrop’s municipal code describes a “public disturbance noise” as “Loud and raucous, or frequent, repetitive, or continuous sounds created by musical instruments, audio sound systems, band sessions, or other devices capable of producing, amplifying, or reproducing sounds which unreasonably disturb or interfere with the peace, comfort, and repose of another and can be clearly heard by a person of normal hearing at a distance of one hundred (100) feet or more from the property from which the sound originates.” The provision doesn’t apply to regularly scheduled outdoor events at parks.
Ranzau said that, aside from downtown business establishments, the town should consider putting time limits on live music at events in Mack Lloyd Park or other town facilities. Currently, the application process doesn’t set a time for music to end.
“I don’t want to be the ogre saying you can’t do things,” Ranzau said. “But we need to somehow express that the entire town may not be interested in your event.”
Ranzau asked if decibel-level rules might be appropriate. But Marshal Doug Johnson said such regulations are difficult to enforce and have not been adopted by other jurisdictions.
Johnson said enforcement of noise regulations in town is largely complaint-driven. He said citizens should call 911 with complaints and the county’s central dispatch will in turn alert local law enforcement.
Council member Joseph O’Driscoll said what’s needed is “mostly common sense and decency” because the town can expect to host events and live music.
Ranzau agreed but said that “people are pushing the boundaries.”
Kilby noted that tourists visiting Winthrop have a right to expect a generally quiet atmosphere. But council member Ben Nelson cautioned that “we need to be careful about how we do it” to keep a balance between the expectations of tourists and residents. “Volume is pretty subjective,” he said.
At the earlier meeting, Copper Glance, a bar and restaurant that frequently has live music, was specifically referenced for late-night noise. Johnson said he talked to Copper Glance operators and “they said they would comply.
“They know they will get cited” the next time there is a complaint about noise after 10 p.m., Johnson said of Copper Glance.
As for citations, Johnson said he believes that the town’s fines “are generally too low across the board,” and suggested updating them. Currently, the fine for violating the noise ordinance is not less than $25 or not more than $50 for the first offense, with the fines doubling on subsequent offenses up to a limit of $1,000.
O’Driscoll said that $250 would “a reasonable first-time” fine to get violators’ attention. If the fines are too low, he said, they may not be effective.
“This is about being adult … and common sense,” O’Driscoll said.
Council members also discussed increasing the upper limit for fines.
Ranzau said town staff will contact other jurisdictions to see how they handle the noise issue, and the topic will again be on a future council agenda. The mayor said she and Johnson will confer on how to proceed.
In other business:
• The council agreed to schedule a meeting to discuss an annexation proposal by Methow Trails in conjunction with the owner of an 18.22-acre parcel that Methow Trails intends to purchase and eventually make its headquarters. Currently, the land on Horizon Flats Road is entirely surrounded by the town. The Winthrop Planning Commission recently reviewed the request and unanimously recommended that it be accepted.
Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said the town and Methow Trails will need to work out an annexation agreement that covers a variety of issues including water and sewer services, comprehensive plan considerations and zoning possibilities.
Methow Trails Executive Director James DeSalvo said earlier the organization would work to have the parcel zoned B3, which allows office buildings, shops, parking lots, parks, exercise facilities and single-family dwellings), if the sale and annexation go through. Methow Trails would seek connections to the town’s water and sewer systems, DeSalvo said.
“We believe future development, beyond what is proposed initially by Methow Trails, will require improvement of Horizon Flats Road as well as consideration of other connected roadways that provide for more than one point of access,” Culp said in a memo to the council.
• The council approved a six-lot preliminary long plat for .85 acres off of Norfolk Road, submitted by Michael Strauss and Heidi Breitbeil. Lot sizes would vary from 5,400 to 10,600 square feet. Access will be off a private road connected to Norfolk Road. The Planning Commission earlier approved the proposal after a public hearing.
During the application process, questions were raised about access, including for emergency vehicles; utilities; and allowed uses. Culp said the current zoning is B-3, and that existing planning and zoning anticipates primarily commercial uses for the property. Multi-family housing might be allowed under some conditions. According to a memo Culp prepared for the council, “the application has indicated the intention to construct small homes on individual lots that could be used as overnight rental units or to house certain businesses.”
She added, “the size of the lots could make it challenging to have a building and adequate parking for many business uses.” The council’s approval includes a long list of town requirements for development.
• The council reviewed proposed changes to the contract for the town’s next marketing director. Current director Rebekah Peterson will be leaving the position in the fall, and the town’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) is soliciting candidates and offering suggested changes to the next contract. The contract amount for marketing services would be increased from $37,560 a year to $40,000 a year.
Kilby, the council’s LTAC representative, said that the field of 23 applicants was narrowed to eight who will be interviewed for the marketing position.
• The council appointed Kilby as mayor pro tem in Ranzau’s absence.
• The council approved a contract with Gray & Osborne engineering for a variety of engineering services and to update the town’s general sewer plan, last visited in 1987.