Discussions of Culture Dominate Noise Ordinance Town Hall Meeting

Above: A crowd of close to 200 filled the new V.I. Legislature’s open-air garage at the start of the Thursday evening, November 3, town hall meeting on the local noise ordinance. More people continued to crowd the space as the meeting went on. Below: Partying and loud music are important parts of V.I. culture, Phillip “Grasshopper” Pickering of popular local reggae group Inner Visions told Senator at Large Craig Barshinger.

St. John residents railed against the current local noise ordinance at a Thursday evening, November 3, town hall meeting called by Senator at Large Craig Barshinger in the hopes of gathering locals’ input in order to change the law.

Close to 200 residents packed into the new V.I. Legislature building’s open-air garage, and one after another, people testified passionately about the cultural importance of partying and loud music. The crowd was difficult to contain at times, with constant murmurs and frequent shouting.

Not one person testified in favor of the current law, which Barshinger and St. John Deputy Police Chief Darren Foy said is riddled with problems and hard to enforce.

Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs was scheduled to attend the meeting, but canceled just hours before. Barshinger vowed to subpoena Biggs to future meetings if necessary to discuss the part that DLCA, which issues bar and nightclub licenses, plays in the problem of noise disturbances.

“Nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong,” said Barshinger as he called the meeting to order. “What it’s about is having a shared standard.”

“The law has its flaws, and we need to come together to see if we can solve this issue,” Foy said, echoing Barshinger’s sentiments.

Problems with the current law include the fact that all bars within 500 feet of a church, school or residential area must be enclosed and soundproofed — a regulation that’s difficult to enforce in a city like Cruz Bay, where bars, churches and schools have long co-existed just steps from one another’s doors.

Another major problem Foy cited is the law’s restriction of noise to 75 decibels, which is no more than two people having an animated conversation. The law also doesn’t specify from where to measure the noise, whether it be from directly in front of the speakers playing loud music, or from a complainant’s home, as is usually the case in stateside laws.

While the V.I. Police Department does have noise meters, the outfit that will train officers in their use refuses to do so until the law is improved.

“When the law is fixed,” Foy said in response to Barshinger’s question of when the VIPD could receive training, a reply which garnered wild applause from the audience.

Several people asked that the new law be applied across the board, whether to regulate a loud party at Sputnik’s in Coral Bay, a live band at Skinny Legs or tourists partying at villas.

“There are villas above me where people scream when jumping into their pools,” said Coral Bay resident and Chateau Bordeaux owner Lorelei Monsanto. “They have to learn to respect us.”

“People have to realize that we are not all retirees, and we are not on vacation,” said resident Lydia Thomas. “We can’t be put on hold because other people want to come and rest before they die. We can’t be limited because vacationers and retirees want to enjoy.”

The theme of culture was prevalent in many of the testifiers’ impassioned pleas to allow loud music to continue to be a part of the St. John scene.

“I work hard all week,” said a St. John resident. “When Friday come, I want to party. Friday, Saturday, Sunday night, these people don’t need to complain about nothing.”

“The last thing I want is to cover our music and culture,” said Delroy “Ital” Anthony. “We angry here tonight; this is serious. We can’t let them come from abroad and control that.”

“We Caribbean people, we hear the music and we still sleep,” said Phillip “Grasshopper” Pickering of the popular local reggae band Inner Visions. “If you can’t live with a culture of noise, you’re free to leave. This is how we are.”

Resident Abigal Hyndman suggested asking the V.I. Department of Tourism to educate visitors on local culture, including the importance of loud music.

Several testifiers insinuated that without partying as an outlet, residents would be forced to turn to illegal pursuits.

“If we don’t have a place to release our stress, what we gonna turn to,” said Anthony. “Drugs and guns and violence.”

The issue of losing business was also raised by several people in the entertainment industry.

“I’ve been shut down three times,” said a local DJ. “I gotta go to the states to make money.”

The DJ suggested measuring decibel levels from the home of the person who calls to complain about the noise, and implementing a time frame to apply for permits for special gatherings, giving the local community time to be notified of the upcoming event.

“I find it heartbreaking that we are killing a bit of culture,” said local promoter Joseph Hardin, who moved to St. John 12 years ago. “I’ve gone from seven venues where I can book bands to three places where the owners are willing to take that chance.”

To read the current ordinance in full, visit www.visenate.org. To share ideas for proposed changes to the law, email [email protected]