Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
In February 2009, the city’s noise control bylaw was revised to limit the use of loudspeakers after 11 p.m.
Just over three years later, at least one downtown business owner is grappling with the implications that decision is having on his business.
Evergreen Terrace chef-owner David Lingard is at his breaking point after bands playing at his establishment have been shut down by police time and time again. He rarely has bands play during the weeks – out of respect for those who live in the area and may have to work the next day – but often books both local and out-of-town acts on weekends.
“We make most of our money off bar nights when we have live music in here and the place fills up,” Lingard said, in a recent interview. “People do not come out for drinks until 10 p.m., then the police shut us down by 11:30 p.m.
“That’s not much of a set for a talented band.”
The city’s current noise bylaw states “music instruments and noise making equipment” is permitted up to 1 a.m. in commercial areas. However, the same bylaw states the operation of any electronic device hooked up to loudspeakers – such as an amplifier – is only permitted until 11 p.m.
By that rule, only acoustic music is permitted after 11 p.m.
But it wasn’t always that way. The bylaw once permitted the use of loudspeakers in a commercial zone until 1 a.m. It was changed by council in 2009 after complaints were received from the owners of the Best Western Plus The Parlour Historic Inn and Suites.
They said the volume of music flowing out the backdoor of a bar in Market Place was disturbing their patrons and forcing them to refund hundreds of dollars to unhappy guests.
The bylaw continues to be enforced on a complaint basis.
Lingard noted other establishments in the core – or on the outskirts, such as the Dominion House – regularly have amplified music well past 11 p.m.
There have been many times that a show at Evergreen Terrace has been shut down and he’s followed patrons to another establishment to watch the band there finish its set.
“It’s frustrating to see it only applied to me,” he said.
Lingard suggested amplified music be allowed until 11 p.m. or midnight on weekdays, and 1 or 2 a.m. on weekends.
“Nightlife is not just good for the locals, it’s good for the tourists, it’s good for the university students about to come here,” he said.
The complaints about the music at Evergreen Terrace stem from guests staying at two neighbouring short-term rental suites, Above and Beyond. The suites are owned by individuals from Michigan but are property managed by Stratford Lodging, the same company that owns The Parlour and sparked the bylaw review in 2009.
Stratford Lodging owner Randy Simpson, who was born and raised in Stratford, acknowledged the issue of noise is a delicate and adversarial situation. He said the common thread between the Parlour’s complaints in 2009 and the current situation is that both businesses – Othello’s back then and Evergreen Terrace now – have little interest in reaching a compromise.
“It’s a basic inability to want to play nice with others, to want to be part of the community and to be considerate of other people,” Simpson said, suggesting if Lingard had been reasonable when approached, his company would not have been forced to turn to police for bylaw enforcement.
Simpson denied Lingard’s claims he has offered to pay for soundproofing of the suites.
Stratford Lodging has been in contact with both city hall and the police in an attempt to clarify the intent of the noise bylaw.
He said when the suites’ owners were in town recently they witnessed some unsavoury behaviour from Evergreen Terrace patrons, including public urination. But the bigger picture is the direction the city wants the downtown core to move toward, Simpson said.
If the city wants to encourage people to live in the core in nice condos, instead of run-down apartments, some decisions may have to be made.
“Do we want to have raucous bands until 1 in the morning, or do we want to have people and families living downtown?” Simpson said. “I don’t know that you can do both.”
Others see issues
Live music at Molly Bloom’s is a regular event, and owner Rob Wigan said it’s important to establish a good relationship with neighbouring businesses. The Keystone Alley Café next door to Molly’s has rooms upstairs. Wigan has reached an agreement that allows his establishment to play amplified music until 1 a.m. without any repercussions.
“I have to respect the fact that’s how they make their extra coin in the summer months,” Wigan said. “It does hinder our last call for sure.”
If the bylaw is enforced and plugged-in bands have to stop playing at 11 p.m., it is unlikely Wigan would bother booking them, even though he said they are “100 per cent essential” to the success of his bar business.
“If a band attracts a younger demographic, we don’t see their fans until at least 11 p.m. and we don’t peak until midnight,” he said.
While those living downtown must have some expectation of noise, he understands that location plays a key role. A bar located on Wellington Street like Evergreen Terrace may run into more problems because of the large residential component nearby, Wigan acknowledged.
The City Centre Committee also supports a vibrant nightlife in the core, one that includes amplified music until 1 a.m.
“Visitors to and residents of Stratford that stay in the core would expect there to be activity and music in the later hours – it’s part of the reason that they stay downtown rather than outside the city limits,” said the CCC board of directors in a written statement.
“Encouraging more use of the businesses in the City Centre includes those that are open and active in the evening, and helps to maintain a healthy downtown. A lively nightlife is an important part of making Stratford the special city that it is.”
The board noted it does not support excessive sound, loud music or other noise past 2 a.m.
Local music promoter Nathan McKay agreed the bylaw needs to be revisited.
“If we want to have a vibrant culture downtown then we need to have some flexibility,” McKay said. “It’s crazy to be in the place that calls itself the ‘premiere arts town’ but yet there’s an intolerance for certain kinds of art.”
Over the weekend, a show was held in Harmony. Many of the acts are ingrained in Stratford’s music culture – even honoured in paintings in Allen’s Alley – yet they headed for the country to play because the perception is it wouldn’t be tolerated downtown.
“They felt if they did it downtown the police would shut it down,” McKay said. “There needs to be a place to have uninhibited music and creativity.”
He is also concerned about what the city has to offer to incoming university students, who expect certain amenities, including a nightlife that doesn’t shut down at 11 p.m.
“If we want to see a vibrant downtown, if we don’t want to see businesses out of business, we need to have a lifestyle that attracts young people – they’re our future,” McKay said.
Without offerings in place, there will be little incentive for students to stay in the city once they’ve graduated, becoming part of the educated workforce or even starting their own companies.
“We need to give them that option and keep them here in our community,” he said.
Not just bands
Though most of the attention is on amplified live music, under the current bylaw no establishment in the core is allowed to have music playing over a speaker system after 11 p.m. – period.
“As soon as you put anything electronic that’s connected and intended for the reproduction of sound – and that includes CD players, record players and radios – it’s all amplified,” said Insp. Sam Theocharis, of the Stratford Police Service.
He confirmed the noise control bylaw is enforced on a complaint basis, and said the police must apply it without bias in both residential and commercial areas.
“It’s out of the hands of the police – it’s the city that makes the regulation,” he said. “We just enforce it.”