Four Houston City Council members sent a memo to Mayor John Whitmire Feb. 22 detailing concerns about recent violations of the city's noise ordinance along with potential solutions to the problem.

Current situation

The memo—signed by council members Sallie Alcorn, Abbie Kamin, Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and Mario Castillo—was sent to the mayor's office after several complaints erupted from neighbors in the South Central area regarding Tribeca, an event venue that officials said has continuously violated the city's noise ordinance.

According to the memo, Tribeca was the first establishment to be called in for an administrative hearing in March 2023 following updates to the ordinance in September 2022.

Following testimony provided by the owners of Tribeca, city officials and police officers instructed the venue to implement a sound mitigation plan within 90 days. Such work included:
  • Installing bass traps
  • Using spray foam to absorb vibration
  • Purchasing smaller speakers
In February, approximately 25 residents living behind Tribeca reported that they were still hearing excessive noise and bass stemming from the event venue.

Several council members recalled resident comments during a Feb. 14 Council meeting, including descriptions of sleepless nights that affected work performance and quality of life.

Taking a step back

Updates to the city's noise ordinance were approved by the Council on May 4, 2022, and became effective Sept. 6, 2022.

The updates, written by council members Alcorn, Kamin and Evans-Shabazz, included:
  • Requiring a new commercial establishment permit for nightclubs, bars and restaurants within 300 feet of a residence playing amplified sound that can be heard outdoors after 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Restricting commercial establishments from playing any outdoor amplified sound between 2-8 a.m.
  • Codifying and refining the administrative hearing process for revocation of a permit to focus on repeat violations.
  • Giving permittees the option to propose and implement a sound impact plan to mitigate loud noise going out into the neighborhood as part of the hearing process.
  • Suspending businesses for up to 180 days or revoking a permit for one year if a plan is not implemented within 90 days
The current ordinance does not include enforcement for noncompliance beyond giving out tickets, which Alcorn said can be a year-long process.

What are the options?

The memo states that Tribeca, while the most recent, is not the only repeat violator of the city's noise ordinance.

The signing council members provided potential measures that the city can explore to bolster the ordinance, including:
  • Adding an enforcement mechanism when a sound mitigation plan is ineffective, such as revoking the businesses permit to play late-night music.
  • Considering adding soundproofing requirements to the city's building code for new bars and nightclubs being built within 300 feet of residences.
  • Exploring enforcement of the noise ordinance by Harris County constables, similar to parking and traffic.
  • Reinforcing the Houston Police Department's general order as it relates to wearing body cameras while working at an alcoholic beverage establishment and reporting incidents when off duty.
"What we didn't consider when strengthening the ordinance is what happens after that implementation plan really doesn't work and they are still a lot of complaints about noise," Alcorn said. "I think there are some quick fixes that we can do to give some more teeth to this and give people a decent night's sleep."