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By Austin Powell, October 19, 2007, Music

Sound of Music

Red River closed down briefly last Wednesday after a crane crashed at the construction site of the Red River Flats, a four-story, 124-unit condominium complex across from Club de Ville and Mohawk, scheduled to open next year. No one was injured. The following Friday marked the groundbreaking of Block 21, a $225 million, 35-story project that includes a 250-room W Hotel, 200 luxury condominiums, and a 2,200-seat venue that will serve as the new home for Austin City Limits and will be managed by Live Nation upon completion in 2010. Both developments represent the conflict between the city's commitment to both Downtown growth and the live-music scene.

The Codes & Ordinances Committee of the Austin Planning Commission recently drafted amendments to the current Austin sound ordinance. Excepting venues with a capacity of 600 people or less in the Warehouse District or Sixth Street District, and South by Southwest, the draft calls for a reduction of the legal definition of "noise," as measured from any point along the property line, from 85 decibels to 75 decibels between 7am and 10pm daily and as low as 70 decibels at other hours, essentially making routine, ambient noise illegal in Austin. Sound familiar? "We comply at 85, but it's a struggle," said Stubb's Charles Attal in May 2002, when similar restrictions were first proposed ("Keeping the Peace," May 3, 2002). "To say 75 dB would put us out of business isn't spin; it's the truth."

Stubb's has since announced a multimillion-dollar expansion and renovation project that would help combat the sound issues, but there are other propositions in the draft that could potentially hamper the entire Red River Entertainment District. Most notably, music venues may be denied permits if located within 100 feet of a residential property. The draft doesn't specify whether this would apply to new occupancies built near previously established clubs, and committee Chairwoman Saundra Kirk declined to comment. "I think there might be some people [near Barton Springs] that have a legitimate issue, but this proposal is like opening Pandora's box; it's open for interpretation," says Brad Stein, chairman of the Austin Music Commission. "Our point is twofold. One, the law on the books is fine; it's there for a reason. Two, this has not gone through the city process of transparency and accountability that our city leaders and our citizens expect for law changes, and that means getting people who are stakeholders and who would be affected by this involved." On Monday, Nov. 5, the AMC is calling a town hall meeting at Momo's to further discuss the current Austin sound ordinance and the new initiatives.

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