Londoners who were ready to kick up their heels and listen to music on downtown patios this summer may have to put their dancing shoes away for now.
An appeal of changes to the noise bylaw has been sent to the Ontario Municipal Board, which could take months to sort out.
Back on June 13, city council passed a motion scrapping a zoning bylaw that prohibits amplified music and dancing all across the city. They voted to amend another noise bylaw, allowing business owners to apply for temporary, renewable noise permits, so long as music is not louder than 70 decibels and isn’t played past midnight.
According to a GoFundMe page, the latest appeal was launched by Anna Maria Valastro, who has been a vocal opponent of noise in her neighbourhood. She claims music over 70 decibels impacts the mental health of those who can hear it.
“Part of the appeal really comes down to a couple of key issues,” said Eric Gillespie, the lawyer representing the appeal.
“One of them is public participation. I heard during the last discussion that under the new system, things are going to come back to the council. Frankly, our understanding is a little different, that it’s just going to be one municipal official. So, you’re taking a system that’s always been very public participation-oriented, very open, and you’re changing it completely to something that takes place behind closed doors.”
Gillespie also raised issues surrounding research into what other communities are doing to address noise levels in the 70 decibel range.
“The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, for a neighbourhood like this, is going to say 45 or 50 decibels, which is about 25 per cent of the amount of noise that city council’s now looking at being permissible,” he said.
The Toronto-based lawyer said his client’s ultimate goal is compatibility.
“There is already existing noise. There’s traffic, there’s businesses operating, there’s all the hustle and bustle of a very dynamic environment already. That’s been working,” said Gillespie.
“People have actually been able to co-exist quite comfortable for many years. It’s not always perfect, but it has worked and London has grown to what it is today. There’s obviously opportunities for further growth, but if it’s done with community input and with people working cooperatively together so that we end up with a compatible solution, that, I think, is our client’s primary goal.”
Valastro set up the GoFundMe page to help raise $30,000 to cover legal costs associated with the appeal, but one local musician says she’s creating a “drag on progress that has been long overdue in this city.”
Justin Plet’s career as a solo singer and songwriter has been his livelihood for the past six years, and he’s penned an open letter to Valastro about her “crusade” against patio music.
“When I do play patios in London and the weather co-operates, it’s packed with 25- to 65-year-old London residents enjoying a night away from their kids or jobs or often celebrating a birthday or retirement. It’s full of good people enjoying themselves, spending money at local businesses, and contributing to the community,” he wrote.
Since the appeal was launched, Plet has been in contact with venues for his outdoor shows this summer. He’s already received one e-mail, telling him to “wait and see” whether he’d be able to play.
It’s those kind of struggles that have driven the London-native to pursue gigs outside of London.
“It’s sad because — in the past four years — I’ve really been moving what I call my bar and restaurant gigs out of the city. I play in Sarnia a lot, because the downtown core there is very welcoming. The council is always encouraging bars and restaurants to have live music.
Coun. Mo Salih supported the changes to the bylaws last month and is in favour of allowing patios to have music and dancing. He says he was disappointed to hear that another roadblock has been put in the way of progress.
“Last year we tried as a council to move forward with a pilot project that was appealed and by the time it was even reviewed, the summer had already passed and there was no opportunity for that,” said Salih.
“Now, here we are again this summer with a council that has unanimously decided to move ahead in this direction and empower people with the opportunity to enjoy the outdoor patios, we’re faced with an appeal.”
Salih says he respects people having the opportunity to have a recourse and share their perspective, but he questions the motives behind it.
“Really, when you look at this, I can’t help but feel as if this is an attack on jobs, an attack on fun and culture and entertainment in this city.”
Salih says he plans to reach out to legal staff at the next committee meeting to see if there are any options available to the city.