The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Noise and the Problem of Pre-Existing Uses...

Being a small business advocate, I tend to look very carefully at the factors surrounding a small business' success or struggle. I've taken a particular interest in the small business climate in my wonderful, little town, and the general county itself. The little coffee shop, the Spot, that we loved and supported enthusiastically, just closed its doors - the result of a combination of many different things.

There are four sit-down restaurants in our town. One really fancy, and three very casual. Doc's is our favorite--it had been a pub/biker bar when we moved in, down near the banks of the Corsica River, in our town's historical "Wharf" area. But about a year ago, it was sold, and the new owners spent a great deal of time, energy, and resources transforming it. They've been quite successful, but success always breeds challenges - this time from a few discrete neighbors, unhappy with the uptick in traffic (and the associated noise).

The problem, of course, is that for as long as just about anyone can remember, this spot has had a bar/restaurant on it. Before it was a restaurant, it was a foundry, serving the industrial businesses that were in the wharf area. The town's unofficial historian can speak volumes about the noise of the metal kegs that were rolled down the street to the waiting ships at the wharf.

Now, I sympathize with the property owners - they want to enjoy their property. But my sympathy is minimized by the fact that they bought these houses knowing that there was a restaurant/bar within earshot. It is further minimized by their tactics, which have been (by my reckoning - and a review of the record) harassingly intransigent. Or instransigently harassing. Take your pic.

Anyhow, they're pushing for our Town Council to amend the local noise ordinance, and there was a hearing in that regard last week. I couldn't attend (we're working on some fun things with regards to state public policy), but I did send a letter. Here it is:

May 22, 2008

Frank Ogens, President

Centreville Town Council

Dear President Ogens:

I am writing to voice my support for Doc’s Riverside Grille, and the proposed changes to the town noise ordinance being suggested by Bo Oristian. I regret that I cannot be in attendance to speak on this issue personally, but I had a prior commitment. I will reiterate some of the points that I raised in the informal meeting held several weeks ago with Town Manager Bob McGrory when the initial hearing on noise issues in town was canceled.

As you may know, not only am I a Centreville resident, I am also, by profession, an advocate on small business issues, and have been for a number of years now. I specialize on the impact of laws and regulations on small business, and speak to small business owners around the country about the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. I am a nationally-recognized expert on these issues, have testified before the United States Congress on them nearly twenty times, and am currently writing a book called “The War on Small Business” which lays out these challenges in detail and offers a number of solutions to them.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. There are, literally, millions of small firms out there, 90% of whom employ fewer than twenty employees. They provide nearly 2/3 of all new jobs in our nation. And they are the hardest hit when it comes to regulations – regulatory costs are higher for these small firms (nearly 50% higher in most cases). This is largely because they are the least equipped to handle new or unclear mandates from government at all levels – they have neither the expertise, nor the time necessary to become experts in regulatory compliance.

Because small business owners are generally doing business in the communities in which they also live, they have a genuine desire to be in compliance with the law. But what they equally desire is clarity and simplicity in those laws. This is the crux of the problem facing Bo Oristian and Doc’s Riverside Grille – an unclear, and what might seem at times like an arbitrary law, and a law that is apt to be abused by those who are unhappy with the success of Mr. Oristian’s restaurant, and the impact of that success on the surrounding neighborhood.

This is why I support Mr. Oristian’s proposals (with two suggested changes). He offers an objective standard that takes into account the realities of living within Centreville, as well as a few procedural changes that offer a realistic balance between those who wish to continue their business, while protecting those whose personal lives might be slightly impinged by the business’ operations.

If I were to make any additional suggestions, I believe that the ordinance ought to reflect the reality of the situation, such that the decibel level reading ought to be taken from inside the home of the complainant, with the doors and windows closed. Such a noise ordinance is designed to preserve the peaceful nature inside one’s home, to allow someone to relax and in all likelihood sleep. This, the validity of any complaint should hinge on the noise levels inside the complainant’s home.

I also believe that some measure ought to be taken to sanction anyone found to be leveling meritless complaints against a specific target. Any person, a small business owner or individual, who has to defend him or herself or his or her business against a complaint of this nature, expends considerable personal time and resources. A disgruntled neighbor cannot use such an ordinance with impunity, and there ought to be consequences for someone found to be abusing such an ordinance.

These are tough times for America’s small businesses. They are facing tremendous challenges: potentially declining customer bases; increasing energy and materials costs; and pressure from the government in terms of taxes and regulation. In light of these challenges, I hope that you will seriously consider what I have written here, and craft changes to the ordinance that are fair, equitable, and small business-friendly.

Once again, I apologize for not being able to be there, but I appreciate the opportunity to voice my opinion to you.

Thanks again.


Andrew Langer


Anonymous Laura Creekmore said...

What a great letter!! I am constantly astounded at the people who make entirely unreasonable demands on small businesses. They seem to view anyone who signs the front of a paycheck as "the man." Instead, small businesses are typically "your neighbor" or "your brother-in-law." We like to depersonalize it, though -- despite the fact that small businesses are very personal. Well here I am getting on my soapbox....I'll stop here. :)

June 18, 2008 11:26 AM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

Thanks, Creek!

June 19, 2008 8:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This site reads like Jay Falstad!!

Is he writing for you, Langer?

November 22, 2008 1:06 AM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

How so?

November 22, 2008 11:56 AM


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