Better – and bigger – signage about amplified music is needed at an athletic field like Robert Crown’s, suggested a speaker at the April 4 City Council Human Services Committee meeting. On this sign, sound limits are the last bullet point in a long list of rules. (Photo by Bob Seidenberg)

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Members of an Evanston City Council committee are recommending changes to the city’s noise ordinance, such as extending the distance music and amplified sound must be from private properties and setting a decibel limit on the noise.

The action came after several residents spoke at recent committee meetings about loud music or sound coming from nearby places and the disruptive effect these have on people’s lives.

Members of the Human Services Committee voted April 4 to recommend that the source of music and amplified sound from loudspeakers, amplifiers, paging systems and the like be situated at least 750 feet from private properties – five times the current 150-foot requirement.

The issue next goes to the full City Council, which has final say on the matter.
Under the proposed changes, any sound coming from those systems could be no louder than 55 decibels at the property line of the premises from which the sound is being generated.

The changes would also require any person, business or group using such systems in an outdoor area to obtain a permit. But a permit would not be issued if the person or group planned to use loudspeakers within 150 feet of residentially zoned property, the amendment specified.

Fines for violations would range from $50 for a first offense to as much as $500 for multiple violations occurring within one year of the first offense.

The restrictions do not apply to individuals or groups that have obtained a Special Event permit (for events such as charity walks, the Starlight Concert Series, etc.), which would require approval by the City Council.

At the March 7 Human Services Committee meeting, several residents spoke in favor of passing the amendments, citing the noise coming from American Legion Post 42 at 1030 Central St.

Longtime resident Perry Weinberg compared the effect to a family gathering in their backyard “when not that many feet away a neighbor is setting up drums, a bass guitar, a steel string guitar and two microphones on a stand in their backyard, right next to yours.”

“Tonight it’s their jam session,” he said in his example. “Again, they do this four to five times a week.”

He suggested a similar situation exists with Legion Post 42 which has a patio area and has been holding live music events in recent years.

Weinberg said he has been a longtime supporter of the Legion post. “I’ve lived in my home near the Legion hall for 43 years,” he told committee members. “As far as I’m concerned, they do just whatever they want, just so they keep it in their footprint and don’t force it upon me.”

Andrew Lazar, another speaker, described a similar effect for him and other residents at Sissilla condominiums at 1210-1222 Central St., across the canal and west of Post 42 and Canal Shores Golf Course.

He told committee members that “while we’re all big supporters of the building, unfortunately, its unique location stands as a catch all.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed shocking and steadily disturbing increases in the use of our neighbor’s property, not a few hundred feet from our homes,” he told committee members.

“What was once a quiet golf course and a hall for veterans to commiserate has rapidly degraded into a local watering hole and an outdoor concert venue. The last few years have been awful. It’s been filled with dozens of amplified events and late-night drinking on that property, our neighbor’s property,” he said.

“We fully understand that our neighbors across the canal have a right to remain viable, but we also cannot accept trading our right for peace for their financial success.”

The RoundTable didn’t receive any response to phone calls and emails sent to several Legion officers April 8 seeking comment about concerns raised by neighbors.

At the April 4 meeting, during public comment, Barbara Wallace, who with her spouse lives across from the athletic fields at the Robert Crown Community Center, 1801 Main St., spoke in support of having the changes applying to that area as well.

She prefaced her comments by saying that she and her husband support the public use of the fields.

“We love them, and we appreciate the benefit they provide, especially to young people in Evanston and especially during the pandemic,” she said, “but some of the houses are less than 100 feet from the fields, and there’s nothing between us … no buildings, no landscaping.”

She said many days when leagues of all sorts use the fields, the decibel level is above the ordinance limit, with “Bluetooth speakers, coaches yelling, whistles, whatever.
“Most of the time that activity is welcome,” she said. “It reminds us we live in a vibrant community. When the Washington [School] kindergartners are playing tag and screaming, it’s our favorite time of year. But other times, many of us would like a break.”

She said neighbors have suggested sound-abatement technologies that could be used with the fencing, as well as better signage.

“Bluetooth speakers are everywhere now,” she said, “and they work really well, and they carry really well. They aren’t allowed on the field, but the signage is very poor for that.

“It’s very small and people don’t see it and a simple solution would be larger and simpler and better signage.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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