My name is Vernon Howard and I live in SoNo on Washington Street.
Norwalk is in the process of updating its noise ordinance and there seems to be some confusion as what kind of noise is being debated. This is a bit long, but I think it’s important that everyone understands what is going on and since I’ve been the topic of discussion on many forums concerning this issue I feel I need to write this letter to add clarity to some of the false assumptions being made. I believe you should be aware of both sides of the issue at hand and the facts in order to make an informed and educated opinion on what is really being considered and why.
Let me begin by showing you an excerpt from the property listing of the unit my fiancé and I now pay a mortgage and property taxes to the City of Norwalk…
“LOCATED IN THE REAR OF THE BUILDING, THIS UNIT IS PEACEFUL AND PRIVATE. OVERSIZED WINDOWS & UNOBSTRUCTED VIEWS PROVIDE A CHEERFUL SUN FILLED LIVING EXPERIENCE.”
What it failed to mention was that on any given night (usually sometime after 9:30 p.m.) everything in your bedroom will vibrate and rattle from loud music and subsonic bass sometimes well in excess of 62dB(A) until 1 or 2 a.m. in the morning. You will need to either sleep on your couches or change your sleep cycle and stay awake till the business closes.
In January of 2013 we had decided to start searching for our own place and stop paying someone else’s mortgage. We decided that the South Norwalk (SoNo) area was an attractive area and offered an atmosphere and environment we would enjoy for many years to come.
Our criteria for a home was fairly simple, but a few important points were:
- Be near a train station since my fiancé does not drive and uses the train to commute to and from work.
- Be close to restaurants and attractions so she would have things she could do on her time off.
We looked at several units around the Washington Street area. One residential unit we looked at was located by the train trestle at the corner of Washington Street and North Main. I remember our real estate agent asking what I was doing as I stood in the bedroom for a while. I simply replied, “waiting”. A few minutes later a train went by and I promptly said “nope” and we headed out. In retrospect, I could have gotten used to that.
We visited the current unit for which we live at least three or four times before deciding to put in an offer at the end of February 2013. Each time we were there it was quiet, warm and inviting, plus, it checked off many of the things we were looking for. We didn’t move in right away. We had some work we wanted to do to the place and it would be easier to do without any of our stuff moved in. We took a month to refinish the floors, paint, remodel the kitchen and perform some other repairs and upgrades. We invested almost $20,000 dollars and numerous hours of work into our new home before we even moved in. Never once during that time did we hear any loud music or noise that would cause us to regret buying the place. Granted, we were probably never there after 9 p.m. either since we didn’t want to be too loud and disturb the existing tenants and our future neighbors.
On Saturday, April 20th, we moved in. Around 10 p.m. that night, exhausted from moving we went to bed. We could hear some music from below, but it wasn’t intrusive at all at that time. A little while later we were woken to our bed and bedroom furniture vibrating and then it got more intense and the music louder and then even louder until we had to get up and leave the room. We were in shock. It was clearly coming from below our bedroom. It’s that very moment when we realized that we had made a grave mistake in buying this place.
We understand that in Connecticut the seller had no legal obligation to disclose the noise nuisance to us, but who would even have thought that something like this was even possible? We’re not from Norwalk, but we’ve both lived in other cities and apartments in similar areas over the years and we’ve never been subjected to this level of noise in an apartment ever. Maybe we were naive to think that business and residents were coexisting on Washington Street due to everyone following the law and respecting each other’s privacy and boundaries like similar urban areas and that the city was prepared to enforce fair and humane ordinances equally under the law. We were very wrong.
Where we’re at now…
At first glance at the city’s noise ordinance you would think that the max noise level after 8 p.m. would be 45dB(A), but because our unit is located in a mixed use zone the “least restrictive” guideline is used which is 62 dB(A) and that level is currently allowed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I don’t know if know what 62dB(A) sounds like, but it’s ridiculously loud for a place that someone would call their home.
It’s very simple to do a Google search and say that normal conversation can hit 60 dB(A) and easily dismiss our complaint as us being too sensitive, but I don’t think people really understand what a decibel is, how it is measured and what continuous music at 62dB(A) can even sound like. Here are some videos to help you better understand.
What is a decibel: https://youtu.be/_p-WyPg1sbU
Decibel Comparison: https://youtu.be/Wcevwtq60Tc
I made these videos to demonstrate (Turn up your speakers):
Music at around 62dB(A): https://youtu.be/iV5ZScuJHTQ
Music at around 45dB(A): https://youtu.be/DJZhur0zdgY
Crowd of people talking at around 62dB(A): https://youtu.be/dS_jNFgaAJk
Crowd of people talking at around 45dB(A): https://youtu.be/6ijZ9YfO-9g
We had what we thought was a reasonable expectation of noise based on our previous experiences, but we grossly underestimated what we would have to endure here. The commercial tenants of the unit below our bedroom have exceeded the current max level of 62dB(A) some weeknights and do so most weekends till 1 or 2 in the morning.
When the current tenant moved in they introduced themselves to the building by taping the below letter to our mailboxes:
They started out being great neighbors and we had no complaints for about a month or so after they opened and then suddenly one night out of the blue the music volume went up to “shake the building” level loud again. It’s important to emphasis that they were open and operating without any complaints from us before this point. We’re not complaining about some background music you would hear and expect by living above a bar. Our complaints are about the excessive subsonic bass shaking everything and the higher frequencies that make it sound like our bedroom has become an extension of their business and unsuitable for it’s intended purpose under those conditions.
Here is just one example of what we had to listen to one Thursday morning at 12:36 a.m. – a work night I might add. This recording was taken in our bedroom with my phone resting on the edge of the bed: https://youtu.be/cUmbEH_ERNw. This is just six minutes of the many hours we had to listen too.
As of the past few months, it seems they’re back to playing the music that loud on just Friday and Saturday nights after 9:30 p.m., but who knows when that will change again. We could be sleeping some random Wednesday night at 11 p.m. and suddenly be woken up due to them blasting their music and shaking the walls and furniture again. Who knows? Our ability to sleep when we want to is at the sole discretion of the business located below our bedroom. I get it, we live over a bar and we expected some noise, but not to this extreme. If I had to compare it to the intensity of a storm, it’s category five-hurricane level loud at times.
I will add that the noise level has dropped significantly the past couple weeks too much more manageable levels, but for how long? I have a feeling it has more to do with the public scrutiny they may be receiving on this issue after recent news exposure in another local publication rather than any respect for their neighbors above. Once this all blows over, they’ll most likely be right back at it again if the proposed ordinance changes fail to pass.
I also find it quite disconcerting that a recent petition being spread around online is proclaiming that the proposed noise ordinance is going to hurt business growth in South Norwalk. Is that really true? I don’t believe so. Most of the restaurants and businesses I’ve been in on Washington Street seem to play their music at reasonable levels. I don’t see it causing any issues for most of them at all.
I also find it suspect that someone used the owners name of the business located below us and made the very first comment on that petition. Coincidence? I find it even more suspicious that you cannot view who created and started the petition in the first place.
We get it, they just want to blast their music at any level they want and not be held accountable to anyone. If someone happens to rile people up by proclaiming that the proposed noise ordinance is bad for all the businesses in South Norwalk when in fact it’s really only going to affect a couple of businesses that regularly abuse the noise level, who’s the wiser? All that exposure and public outrage based on half-truths and false assumptions… Aren’t we all sick of fake news and now we’re needing to deal with misleading petitions as well? I have a feeling everyone that signed that petition is just being played a fool, but that’s just my opinion.
Neither the tenant nor the owner of that unit has taken any measures to soundproof the unit or contain the noise as far as we know and if they have, it isn’t adequate for the levels they’re playing their music at. In fact, I have an email from the attorney representing the unit owner to my attorney basically stating we should pay the costs of soundproofing their unit. Seriously? We’re not the ones blasting music at 80+dB(A) in our unit at 1 a.m. in the morning! Why should we be responsible for mitigating their tenant’s excessive noise levels?
Let’s be honest. If you’re a business owner in South Norwalk and the success or failure of your business is hinged on your ability to play your music so loud that it shakes the whole building, than you’re probably doomed for failure. It reeks of desperation and a feeble attempt to try and pull people in from the street. If that’s all you have in your business promotional tool belt, you are ill prepared for today’s informed consumers. Just look at other bars like The Beer Garden, Episode, Rain and probably many more that tried and failed trying similar business modals.
What about the businesses that have been around for many years and seem to be doing just fine? You know which ones I’m talking about. They’re a fixture on Washington Street. They don’t play their music so loud the buildings shake around them, so why are they still in business? What’s their secret to success? It’s definitely not from blasting loud music.
There are many issues that can affect economic growth of a community, but I don’t believe restricting the current noise ordinance is going to limit it in South Norwalk. If anything, it was the lack of parking; the increasingly higher parking fees and the high commercial rents that are likely the leading hindrances to business development here, but lets go ahead and place blame on a restrictive noise ordinance that’s not going to affect 97% of the businesses already open and serving customers anyway.
From what I’ve seen, South Norwalk has evolved to be more of an artsy, entertainment and dining district, not seedy bars and dance clubs that attract the type of people that have little to no respect for our community and the people that call it home. That time was apparently 20 years ago from what I’ve been told. Time to move on to better things.
Is 45dB(A) realistic for this area?
Maybe not, but it’s a start while the committee overhauls the whole ordinance. It temporarily gives control back to the residential tenants again. If a business wants to play loud music, it is their responsibility to the community and their neighbors to mitigate their own noise issues and not dismiss the residents by saying, “You chose to live here, deal with it” and then do whatever they please. If that is the case, the City of Norwalk should never have allowed residential units above these commercial spaces to begin with.
Additionally, there is also no financial motivation for these businesses to lower the noise or even install proper noise proofing. The current $99 fine is nothing but the cost of doing business to them and a tax write off and that’s if the police even issue a ticket. In 2015 The City of Norwalk issued exactly zero noise ordinance violation tickets and I would bet if you looked at 2016 you would find the same. The proposed $250 fine is still not nearly enough for repeat offenses in my opinion, but it’s a start.
How the current noise ordinance is written in itself is confusing. It needs to be made clearer and simpler so that the police can enforce an ordinance that is fair to businesses and residents alike that call Washington St. and other mixed-use building zones home in Norwalk.
Anyone that currently lives in a residential space over a commercial unit in the City of Norwalk could have this happen to them at any time if it is not changed.
Maybe right now that commercial unit below you is occupied by a nice quiet business who respects their neighbors, but who is to say they’re going to stay there forever? Maybe the next tenant will be a bar or restaurant that wants to play loud music and does not care when you sleep, your health or that you lived there 10 years without any issues but guess what, you do now and you’re being told you should move if you don’t like it. Would that sound fair to you?
I personally know of at least two other people that have had to move away from their homes on Washington Street due to the excessive noise they’ve experienced in two separate locations on Washington Street. I’m sure there are many hundreds more that I don’t about and left in silence. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of just moving away since we own and have made a substantial investment in improvements and upgrades to our unit and see no way to re-coup that money by selling it right now and, frankly, we love the area for the most part minus the building-shaking bass problem.
I cannot in good conscience try and sell and put another person in the same situation we’re in by not disclosing the noise problem. It wasn’t fair to us, and it wouldn’t be fair to them. We may have been a bit naïve by not being from the area, but I refuse to put another unsuspecting person in the same position we are. It’s unethical and I would question the moral integrity of anyone saying we should or would do so themselves if they were in our situation.
I’m not going to get into get into all the negative health issues associated with long-term noise exposure or the fact that a historic, brick building built in the 1860’s is probably having its structural integrity compromised due to the level of subsonic bass pressure it’s being subjected too regularly, but these are important things to consider as well.
All that being said, would we support some kind of sliding scale noise ordinance for weekends and holidays for this area? Absolutely, but we’re not willing to let the businesses set that noise level or even allow them to self-regulate themselves. For far too long they have dictated when and how much noise they will subject their residential neighbors too without any recourse or interference by the city. In our experience with the current and previous tenants of the commercial unit below us, they’ve proven to us they can’t be trusted to be fair or even care for the well being of the people that live above them and call Washington Street their home.
Contrary to popular belief, we want the businesses on Washington Street to be successful and grow. A busy street full of thriving businesses is good for everyone in the long run. We’re definitely not out to hurt them or put them out of business, but businesses that do fail to respect their neighbors and the community should not be allowed to do whatever they please without consequence. If they want to play their music louder than every other place on Washington Street, they should have to install adequate soundproofing or else keep the music level down to a reasonable level.
For some comparison, what is being proposed here in Norwalk is even less prohibitive than what New York City currently has in place. You can watch this video that was produced by the NYC DEP: https://youtu.be/TyrNJ6E10IE Their noise limit is 42dB(A) which is based on the federal standard set by HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) and NYC makes no distinction between residential, commercial or mixed use. If a business plays music or has live bands, these are the rules they need to abide by. It’s all treated the same.
We ask the city Council to pass the two proposed preliminary amendment changes to the noise ordinance so that residents of mixed-use units in Norwalk no longer need to be at the mercy of their commercial neighbors whims without recourse.
We also ask that moving forward they find a way to simplify and make clearer a city noise ordinance that is mutually beneficial and fair to both businesses and residents of not only Washington Street, but the rest of Norwalk as well.