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Boulder moves toward ordinance update to address University Hill noise

City also implemented other changes as result of working group

Hundreds of what appeared to be University of Colorado Boulder students crowd 10th Street near Pennsylvania Avenue on University Hill on March 6, 2021. The riot reinvigorated efforts among residents and organizations to address the disproportionate amount of noise and property maintenance complaints on the Hill. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)
Hundreds of what appeared to be University of Colorado Boulder students crowd 10th Street near Pennsylvania Avenue on University Hill on March 6, 2021. The riot reinvigorated efforts among residents and organizations to address the disproportionate amount of noise and property maintenance complaints on the Hill. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)
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With the University Hill neighborhood representing about 44% of the noise issues across Boulder, the city is considering amending its noise ordinance to allow for earlier enforcement and more police officer discretion.

The amendment would allow Boulder police officers to address “unreasonable amplified noise” during the day in residential neighborhoods in the 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. window that’s not covered within the existing ordinance.

Additionally, the amendment would allow an officer to enforce the ordinance after hearing amplified noise in a neighborhood and does not require the resident to engage further than making the initial complaint.

None of these changes would go into effect until Boulder City Council conducts a public hearing in early September and officially approves the amended ordinance. The city pushed back the date to schedule the hearing when University of Colorado Boulder students have returned and can attend to provide feedback.

In a study session on Thursday, Boulder City Council received an update on the various in-process projects and potential ideas to help address the disproportionate amount of noise and property maintenance complaints on the Hill.

This work has been ongoing in some fashion since 2015 but was reinvigorated after the March 2021 University Hill riot. An estimated 500 to 800 college-age people gathered in the University Hill neighborhood for a large outdoor party that became destructive, with people flipping a car and damaging other vehicles and property.

The Hill Revitalization Working Group, which has been guiding the work, includes a variety of organizations and people, including residents of the Hill, city staff members, CU Boulder students and staff and the Boulder Area Rental Housing Authority.

The modified noise ordinance is just one of many efforts in the short, medium and long term, to address the various nuisance complaints.

Among other things, Boulder also is working on an education program for landlords, a potential neighborhood cleanup initiative and a partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder Police Department and the Boulder Police Department.

It’s also considering additional changes, including trash and other nuisance penalties, which could potentially be crafted similarly to the city’s bear-resistant trash container ordinance.

That measure, which staff said has proven quite successful, enacts fines for properties in a certain area of Boulder with trash or waste left unsecured from bears.

CU Boulder also is working to better educate its students and to collaborate with police officers on accountability. When police reports are shared with the university and action can be taken, students are more likely to change behavior, CU Boulder Dean of Students Devin Cramer noted.

Additionally, Boulder has been gathering and analyzing data on the topic. Though there are some caveats, including vague calls for service and trouble matching addresses and rental licenses, the city hopes the data collected will drive the work.

The data presented at Thursday’s study session demonstrates that of the 21,000 total nuisance incidents — noise, property maintenance, parking, animal complaints, burglary, public health order violations and more — that occurred in Boulder between June 2020 and May 2022, 31% happened in University Hill.

Spatially, the area known as University Hill represents about 5% of all the subcommunities in Boulder such as central Boulder, north Boulder and the University of Colorado.

However, about one-third of the nuisance incidents occur on University Hill.

“It’s kind of a disproportionate amount of incident volume that we’re seeing based on the land mass,” data analyst Tony Spencer said.

Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend is a member of the Hill working group and she was one of the council members who pushed for action after the 2021 riot.

“I imagine that this presentation has been a little bit both frustrating and validating for people that come to those sessions,” Friend said.

The statistics are “precisely in line with what we’ve been hearing for years,” she added.

The modified noise ordinance will return to City Council in September for a public hearing, and Boulder intends to continue providing updates on its other projects.

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