Ordinance’s impact on families brought forth

Culver’s Town Council planned a work session last week to discuss best measures to handle increasingly heated sentiments regarding a noise ordinance for the town of Culver.
Discussing at length her family’s personal experience with noise problems in Culver (during the public input portion of the meeting) at the Oct. 26 Council meeting was Janet Halling of South Main Street. Halling voiced her support of the proposed ordinance, which was presented in draft form at the Council’s previous meeting, during which various methods of giving law enforcement more ability to reduce the noise problem were discussed.
Halling — who also read a letter from her husband, Don Baker, who couldn’t attend the meeting — said her family has been dealing with weekend noise problems originating from a restaurant and bar across the street from her home, since summer of 2007. She said loud music until 3 a.m. on weekend nights, and loud, “obnoxious” patrons of the business after 3 a.m. have been an ongoing problem.
“We have made numerous calls (and have) been ignored or met with rudeness or lies,” Halling explained. “Many times our calls are just not answered. I have spoken to the owners several times. They sometimes seem genuinely concerned, and other times have been very blunt and said they make their money on nights with DJs and karaoke.”
Halling noted this past summer the establishment hired a doorman to keep patrons under control and be sure the business’ doors stay shut, which prevents much of the noise from escaping. However, in the past few weeks problems have resumed and the family has had to make several calls to the police.
“As soon as the police officer leaves, the volume goes back up. They know it’s a nuisance when they have their doors open, and they just opened the door back up after the officer left.”
She praised local police for taking her calls seriously and arriving quickly, adding her hope for the new ordinance is it will be “tough enough to have a lasting impact...and that increasing abuses lead to increasing penalties.
“I don’t want (the business) to fail,” she added. “I just don’t want to hear what they’re doing inside my house with the windows closed at 2, 3, and 4 in the morning every time they do it.”
Baker’s letter explained he works in Chicago during the week and returns to Culver on weekends, adding he’d forgotten how quiet the town was until visits in 2004 and 2005 reminded him.
“We found out quickly things have changed drastically in Culver,” Baker wrote. He said he has to get up at 4 a.m. during his weekends in Culver and is “unable to sleep in my own bed” due to the noise.
“It’s not fair that we have to spend late nights on the phone; we like to have a beer and enjoy ourselves. We like to sing at karaoke once in a while, but we feel compelled to stand up for our family, our neighborhood, and our town in the name of simple peace and quiet.”
Culver Police Chief Wayne Bean acknowledged that other neighbors in the area have complained about the noise, adding he sympathizes and is aware there’s a problem. Council members discussed language in the proposed ordinance regarding how often officers must return to an establishment before it’s considered a second — and therefore fine-generating — offense.
Council member Ginny Munroe expressed concern that present fines might be a deterrent to an individual or household violating the noise ordinance, but “to a business this (fee) is nothing compared to what they can profit in two to four hours on a night like this.”
Town Manager Michael Doss said his research has found that some communities use a staggered fine system in which the third violation results in a $500 fine. The fine proposed in the current ordinance, which Council passed on first reading only at its previous meeting, is $50.
Discussed was the legality of shutting down an establishment for the evening if the noise ordinance is repeatedly violated, though town attorney Jim Clevenger said such a move “might increase some issues for you guys.”
Council members opted to hold a Nov. 3 work session to hammer out the best wording and direction for the noise ordinance.
Council members also discussed the legality of patrons at local bars and restaurants carrying alcohol they’ve been drinking off the premises. Bean suggested a new, unrelated ordinance dealing with open container violations to preclude alcohol consumption in public areas.
“Alcohol is a big issue in this whole area,” said Bean. “And it’s growing and growing and growing. I’m not saying people can’t have a drink, but running all over town with it is (different).”
It was agreed town attorney Jim Clevenger will look into possible open container laws for Culver.
A public hearing will take place Nov. 9 preceding the third and final reading of an ordinance making it illegal for Culver residents to feed cats deemed strays or nuisances. Doss noted the ordinance clarifies who would be regarded as taking in, harboring, or “owning” such cats; the ordinance — which Council passed on second reading — assigns a $100 fine for each violation.
The Council also adopted the town of Culver’s 2011 budget of $1,809,381 — an increase of $3,323 from 2010 — as discussed at the previous meeting. Town Clerk Casey Howard noted every town department gave back funds last year at a total of $172,575.53, adding the town normally doesn’t use all the funds budgeted.
“Overall, an increase of $3,300 is very good,” added Howard.
After some discussion, the Council passed only on second reading changes to Culver’s zoning ordinances. More than a year of study and discussion on the part of a committee had resulted, earlier this year, in a proposed new zoning ordinance for the town; that ordinance passed through Culver’s Plan Commission, but language in two sections pertaining to changes in definitions of lots caused the Town Council to delay passing the ordinance. Recent negotiations among members of Council and the Plan Commission largely resolved those issues, but at the Oct. 26 meeting Building Inspector Russ Mason raised objections to an additional change suggested by Council President Sally Ricciardi, who was absent from the meeting. Mason argued the existing ordinance’s language concerning side and rear setbacks relating to new construction do allow for residents with hardships or extenuating circumstances to bring their issues before the Board of Zoning Appeals. Therefore, he added, the language in the ordinance should remain as it is.
“That’s what the BZA is there to hear,” said Mason. “(Exceptions) have been granted by the BZA on occasion. We have a method for that.”
Several Council members said they weren’t sure of Ricciardi’s thinking on the matter and preferred to wait for her presence to vote on the ordinance on final reading.
During his Town Manager’s report, Michael Doss told Council a one-year contract was signed with an Indiana-based firm which handles installation and removal of holiday decorations for municipalities (the company also provides the decorations themselves), as proposed at the last meeting. In response to audience query, Doss said he’ll discuss with the company providing lights for a town Christmas tree on Lake Shore Drive planted in honor of the late Selestine Ware. Doss also noted letters soliciting donations from local service organizations have been sent, and audience member Mike Stallings said Culver’s Chamber of Commerce agreed to provide $125 to offset the cost of one of the town’s 13 utility poles planned for decoration.
The Council voted to sign a contract with Priority Project Resources to handle grant administration for the town’s wastewater facility collections improvement, for which a grant was awarded from federal Disaster Recovery 2 monies via Indiana’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs. It was announced in early October that nearly $1 million had been awarded the town for the project.
Commonwealth Engineers will handle engineering services for the project, with funding coming from the town’s local match portion of the total cost of the project.
Also passed (on all three readings) was an ordinance to designate a parking spot on the north side of the Culver Public Library, on Washington Street, a handicapped space.
Council also authorized Culver’s street department to pay overtime monies for leaf collection workers in coming weeks, and $4,426 for inspection of pumps at Culver’s lift stations.