The woes of the current Wilmington noise ordinance for one local brewery


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington city leaders are currently in the process of revising the noise ordinance. City staff informed them last week that the ordinance is decades old.

Less than a month ago, one local brewery began its effort to inform city leaders about the ‘unfair’ practices and precedents that are playing out with the current rules. That effort began when Wrightsville Beach Brewery was ticketed for noise during a benefit reggae concert for a local non-profit.

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“Fifty-eight decibels for a nonprofit concert at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday,” said owner Jud Watkins. “Frankly it’s wrong, it’s unfair.”

Where the brewery sits along Oleander Drive, the ordinance allows noise levels to reach well above that. The brewery is zoned in a commercial district and is allowed to have noise levels reach close to 75 decibels. According to the citation Watkins received, the music was ‘plainly audible’ from more than 66 feet from the property.

“I can’t help but laugh because 58 decibels, that’s a conversation,” said Watkins. “That’s quieter than we are right here, right now with all these cars going by.”

Watkins has multiple sound meters that he says were used before and during the concert. He says the city has a meter as well, but the officer did not have it the day the ticket was given. The city has only one sound decibel reader according to Meredith Everhart with City Attorney’s Office. Everhart says it cost $10,000 and sits in the downtown task force unit. Wrightsville Beach Brewery sits along Oleander Driver at Greenville Avenue.

One Perfect Luau at Wrightsville Beach Brewery (Photo: Kate Cornell)

“Is it that one really vocal minority that’s going to dictate our policy here in town,” asked Watkins. “Do we let one person make us no fun Wilmington? No music Wilmington? That’s just not right that that can happen. It can be a real unhealthy precedent.”

Watkins is talking about the fact that there is no option of due process for his business now. He is not allowed under the ordinance to appeal the ticket.

“Now I’m the unfortunate business that’s stuck in the situation where I’ve been issued a ticket I have no way to appeal it. I know I’m within my rights, but I don’t get a day in court,” Watkins said.

Watkins says he is not the only person that has been in that situation with the city. He says a lawsuit that took place over the last year cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. He says it all had to do with a citizen suing the city for not having an appeals process for noise violations.

It was a case that city leaders say kept the ordinance revision from progressing.

“The impediment at the time was that there was a case pending. Someone challenged a noise violation,” said councilman Kevin O’Grady. “The issue was a lack of an appeal process.”

O’Grady tells WWAY’s Andrew James that the issues with the ordinance were brought to light more than a year ago in the Vision 2020 committee he chaired.

“Their issue was that it wasn’t a very clear ordinance,” O’Grady said. “It wasn’t clear how the police could enforce it. The police were saying that they weren’t able to enforce it.”

Wrightsville Beach Brewery has been in business for upwards to two years according to Watkins. In those years, Watkins says he has had events where he went through the permitting process to appease any sound level violations that may come up. He says eventually Wilmington police officials told him the permits were not needed in the district the business was zoned within.

The current ordinance allows noise levels for commercial districts to be up to 75 dB from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and as late as midnight Friday and Saturday. That’s the same for downtown in that time frame. In residential areas, it is limited to 65 dB in that time frame. The sound limits are 5 to 10 decibels lower for the other hours in the day in these three areas.

“It wasn’t fulfilling the future that we had for the city,” said the councilman. “It was so confusing that you couldn’t understand what you could do at what time easily.”

The newly revised ordinance simplifies those time limits, however Watkins says it still leaves too much of a gray area.

“The new rules are just nuts,” Watkins said. “We’re talking lets allow landscaping and trash trucks to come out early at 6:00 a.m., but I can’t sit out on my back porch and play guitar without spiking 60 decibels.”

Under the revised ordinance, an appeals process would be added in. It also says permits are required for any outdoor entertainment or when inside sound is likely to exceed levels. However, all of that could be altered. Councilman O’Grady says the city staff is already revising the revision. He says another draft will go before the council at their June 17 agenda briefing.

“This needs to be resolved. It needs to be resolved yesterday,” said Watkins.