While not raising their voices, St. John business owners last week agreed that the noise ordinance as spelled out in the V.I. Code is mired in confusion.
Most of the 14 people who attended the monthly meeting of the St. John Chapter of the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday evening, April 26, at Castaways were there to discuss the noise ordinance.
The issue has taken center stage in Cruz Bay lately with some business owners and residents looking for quiet and other business owners hoping to continue to host live entertainment while operating within the law.
Government House officials are in the process of revamping the ordinance and have reached out to the local chamber to get input from St. John business owners, according to chamber board member Kate Norfleet.
“Government House is in the process of rewriting the law,” said Norfleet. “Right now there is really no legal music allowed outside anywhere, unless you have a nightclub license and no one really qualifies for that. Everyone wants to listen to music and have a good time, but we have to come together as a community and come up with a law we can all live with.”
Business owners are looking for exactly that — a law which makes sense.
“I think we are just looking for a common sense law,” said one Cruz Bay business owner at the meeting. “There could be reasonable time limits on loud music on weekends and weekdays. We want to get along with other businesses and if it was a common sense law I think everyone would be happy to comply.”
The noise pollution control act, as spelled out in Chapter 62 of the V.I. Code, is confusing and ambiguous. While defining “noise pollution” as a sound which exceeds 75 decibels, the code does not detail the process for determining where to test the sound. If a decibel meter is placed in front of speaker, for instance, a 75 dB reading would be easy to obtain.
The V.I. Code also prohibits noise pollution in “residential zones,” but those zones are not clearly identified. On St. John, with residents living in close proximity to businesses — and amplified music, defining a “residential” or “commercial” zone is not an easy task.
The geography of the island also adds to the noise pollution problem, explained Norfleet.
“A lot of people live in bowl areas where the music coming from Cruz Bay can be heard clear as day up on the hill by Sirenusa, for example,” said Norfleet.
Inconsistent enforcement of the ordinance is also an issue, according to several chamber members at the meeting.
“The bar that a cop owns never has to turn its music down, no matter how many times people call to complain,” said one business owner.
All of the issues related to the noise pollution act in the VI Code, make it virtually impossible to obey the noise ordinance, explained Norfleet.
“The way the law is written now, it’s basically bogus,” she said.
The good news is that Government House’s ears are open to input from St. John to help reshape the current noise pollution act, Norfleet added.
“They are giving St. John a direct option to share what we perceive are the problems with the current law and how we want the law to be changed,” she said. “We all want music but we need some semblance for control. We need to be fair to both sides.”
Residents and business owners should email Norfleet their ideas regarding the law and what they would like to see in the future, she added.
“We will bundle everything up and send it to Government House,” said Norfleet.
Government officials also agreed to share a draft of the changes to the law with St. John Chamber members before sending the proposal on to the legislature, Norfleet explained.
“There are a lot of different areas of concern, but I think it is great that Government House is interested in hearing from us and sharing the rewritten act before they send it to the senate,” she said.
Norfleet also shared Franklin Powell Park renovation plans with the chamber chapter members at the meeting. The plans, which date to 2002, show basically the same set-up at the Cruz Bay park, but with pavers instead of concrete walkways.
The Enighed Pond Marine Facility parking lot remained closed last week, but chamber officials expected to hear word about its opening soon, according to Norfleet.
“I’m expecting a press release with specific dates about the official opening of the lot, but I haven’t gotten anything yet,” she said. “The parking lot should open imminently.”
The St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce also finally wrapped up its latest Member Directory. Norfleet has been working on the 150-page directory for more than year and was determined to send the book to the printer on Friday, April 29.
The group is also gearing up for its annual awards banquet. The Wilbur “Bill” LaMotta Community Service Awards dinner will be on Saturday, May 14, at St. Peter Greathouse on St. Thomas.
Among the honorees this year are Ira Wade of the Department of Public Works and the V.I. National Park. Tickets are $130 and available at Connections. A shuttle from Red Hook to the event will be provided for St. John guests.
The next meeting of the St. John Chapter Chamber of Commerce will be on Tuesday, May 24.