A new citywide noise ordinance, pushed forward by long-standing problems in Boulder’s University Hill neighborhood, will prohibit amplified noise that can be heard from about a block away.
The ordinance approved by the Boulder City Council on Thursday in an 8-1 vote — Councilmember Nicole Speer was the dissenting vote — allows 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 city’s existing ordinance.
Additionally, the ordinance allows for the police to be more proactive, staff noted. Instead of requiring a neighbor complaint and a decibel meter, officers patrolling the Hill can observe a violation and then “pace off” whether it can be heard 200 feet from the home where it is occurring.
The ordinance does not regulate unamplified noise nor does it regulate noise from other sources, including from leaf blowers, cars or lawn mowers.
The ordinance, approved as an emergency measure making it immediately effective, is the result of work that has been ongoing in some fashion since 2015.
The effort became reinvigorated in March 2021 when 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.
And beyond that, data shared in a study session earlier this year demonstrated 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 the area known as University Hill.
The Hill Revitalization Working Group is made of 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.
According to a staff memo for Thursday’s meeting, of the 122 people who responded to a survey, 73 expressed support and could see no negative impacts from the ordinance, while 31 had hesitancy or concern.
Concerns reported through the Be Heard Boulder survey include the potential for overreach, creating unnecessary laws that could lead to harassment and limiting people’s ability to enjoy themselves and gather with music.
Supporters, on the other hand, argued that the ordinance would ensure peaceful enjoyment of their home, allow for sleep before 11 p.m., provide a standard and expectation of neighbors and potentially improve relations between neighbors and students.
With adoption, the city intends to track the number of citations under the new law by demographic data to identify and address any potential racial disparity.
It also plans to track the data to determine whether the ordinance has a positive impact on its goal of reducing daytime noise.
There was general support for the noise ordinance, at least by residents of the Hill who testified during the public hearing on Thursday.
Residents have for years voiced concerns about the disruption that occurs in homes generally occupied by University of Colorado Boulder students.
Among those who spoke Thursday was Daniel Haarburger, who said he was born and raised in Boulder but recently moved because of the noise on the Hill.
“Constant noise pollution was the No. 1 reason for me and my spouse to leave,” he said. “The severity of the noise made us feel forced to move out of our home.”
While the majority of those who testified were in support, a few students attended to speak in opposition.
Hayden Christopher, president-elect of CU Boulder fraternity Phi Kappa Tau, questioned whether the new ordinance would be effective. Additionally, he said his fraternity works hard to be good neighbors by hosting cleanups, shoveling snow and more.
“We take a lot of responsibility and a lot of effort to make sure that we’re good neighbors to everybody else on the Hill,” he said.
Several fraternities worried the new ordinance would impact their ability to host gatherings outside, but the City Council emphasized that’s not the intent.
“It’s not as if we are not permitting students to be students,” Councilmember Mark Wallach said. “We are not expecting every student who lives on the Hill to go to bed at 8:30 after reading a couple of chapters of Chaucer. They’re students. They gather. There will be times when they play music. … We’re simply asking them to respect certain limits that are necessary to the larger community.”
With the adoption of the ordinance, CU Boulder will begin an immediate education campaign. Also, the City Council has requested a one-year check-in to gauge the effectiveness of the ordinance.