Mar 27, 2024 - News

Denver considers new noise rules, including redefining the word

Illustration of the Denver flag with the mountains and sun rendered as audio waveforms that are fluctuating.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Denver is fine-tuning its laws governing noise — including redefining the word.

Why it matters: The proposal would revamp the city's noise ordinance, including changing allowable trash pickup times and higher decibel limits for local festivals.

Driving the news: Denver's public health department issued draft language in February to update the ordinance, which was most recently changed in 2008, public health investigations director Danica Lee tells us.

  • Noise complaints are overseen by the department, which is responsible for enforcing and investigating complaints.

How it works: The proposals include a new definition of noise.

  • It removes the phrase "adverse psychological or physiological" and replaces it with language saying sounds exceeding pressure levels permitted in the ordinance or in rules adopted by the Board of Public Health & Environment.
  • The change lowers the public health department's burden for proving a violation that is appealed, but the threshold for making the noise complaint remains unchanged, city public health spokesperson Emily Williams tells us.

By the numbers: Over the past five years, the city has investigated just over 400 noise complaints a year, according to Williams.

Context: Lee says the proposals are primarily driven by a need to adopt regulations reflecting Denver's growth over the past several years.

  • "The trajectory of growth that the city has had has completely changed the way noise impacts a lot of people, both in their working environments and in their homes," Lee tells us.

Case in point: The popular Five Point Jazz Festival has technically been violating the ordinance for the past few years, Lee says.

  • The festival generates much higher decibel volumes than are allowed near residential properties that have grown in the neighborhood over the past few years.
  • With this in mind, the proposal increases the limit from 80 dBA to 85 dBA — close to the sounds of a garbage disposal — for festivals held on public property.

Between the lines: Under the proposal, waste and recycling pickup would be allowed to start as early as 5am in downtown areas and 6am for most of the city.

  • Current laws allow for pickup after 7am.

Zoom out: The decibel limit for residential properties between 7am and 10pm would remain unchanged at 55 dBA.

Caveat: There are no proposed changes to recreational noise limits, which vary depending on location. Lee says the current laws offer an "adequate balance" for people to use public spaces for recreation.

  • Lee says she's heard concerns from pickleball players — and their opponents — over sound the game generates, but says the parks department is focusing on managing those concerns.

What's next: The proposal could be presented to a Denver City Council committee sometime in the next two months.

  • If passed, the new rules could go into effect as early as this summer.
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