Cedar Park City Council adopted changes March 9 to its noise-regulation ordinance that would further limit the allowable level of sound in the city.
City staff conducted a noise assessment study in spring 2016 that centered around Lone Star Grille & Amphitheater and examined ordinances in other cities. Based on those results, a sound consultant recommended ordinance changes that impact all residential and non-residential buildings in the city.
Rick Redmond, the owner of Lone Star Grille, said the sound limits would prohibit outdoor live music at his business—despite the original economic incentives calling for it to be a restaurant and an outdoor music venue.
“This has gotten to the point where I don’t think [Lone Star Grille] can stay in business,” he said.
However, several residents in the nearby Cedar Park Town Center neighborhood are supportive of the new changes.
“I hear Toll 183A; I hear the train that’s behind me behind H-E-B—it is nothing compared to this music,” resident Gail Greer said. “It has ruined our life. I regret that we even purchased our home in Cedar Park because of this music venue.”
Study and recommendations
In spring 2016, city staff worked with consulting firm Dickensheets Design Associates to conduct a noise study focusing on Lone Star Grille. According to city data, 17 noise complaints were reported on the business in 2016.
Sam Roberts, Cedar Park assistant city manager, said the goal of the study was to reduce the allowable noise levels after 10 p.m. to provide some residents relief and also still allow outdoor music venues in the city to be viable.
Roberts said decibel measurements were taken at Lone Star Grille’s property line, which sits on East New Hope Drive, and at two locations inside the Cedar Park Town Center neighborhood, which sits about a half-mile away from the venue on the opposite side of Toll 183A.
He said the consultant took measurements both when no music was playing at the venue and during a concert event. The consultant used two types of decibel measurements—one that records mid- and high-frequency sounds, or A decibels, and another that measures low-frequency sound, or bass noises, called C decibels. The latter is usually the source of common complaints, Roberts said.
Cedar Park’s previous sound ordinance measured A decibels only and allowed 85 decibels during the day and 70 decibels at night, which is defined as between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Sound consultant Ken Dickensheet said he measured at Lone Star Grille in the direction of the neighborhood and registered 79 A decibels at night during a concert. At another location where the stage was shielded by the restaurant building, Dickensheets said he measured 67 A decibels.
“This shows how much interplay there is with the physical structure like a wall or a building being between the [noise] generator and the [noise] receiver,” he said.
The first measurements taken in the neighborhood were behind The Parke shopping center when it was under construction. Dickensheets recorded 51 A decibels when music was playing. In a location farther away from the shopping center in Town Center, he recorded 54 A decibels during a concert. Roberts said the homes farther away from the shopping center are less buffered from the music.
If a citizen ever called with a noise complaint, the previous ordinance dictated that measurements would be taken from the location where the complaint was filed rather than at the property line of the sound source. Redmond said Lone Star Grille has never been in violation of the city’s previous noise ordinance.
City staff and Dickensheets recommended moving the measurement location to the property line of the sound source. Dickensheets said that would be the most significant change to the ordinance, and it would result in about a 20-25 decibel drop in sound from Lone Star Grille.
“That’s a major reduction,” he said. “So you should hear a major reduction in neighborhoods.”
Georgetown, San Marcos, New Braunfels and now Cedar Park measure from the source of the noise, according to the city, while Round Rock measures from the complaint location. Austin measures 6 feet from the property line, according to the Austin Police Department.
On March 9, City Council adopted A and C decibel limits and created separate categories for residential and non-residential properties. Roberts said the C decibel limit would reduce the amount of bass that businesses and residential homes can give off.
Under the new ordinance, the limits for non-residential properties are 75 A decibels and 85 C decibels during the hours of 7 a.m.-10 p.m. and 65 A decibels and 75 C decibels during the hours of 10 p.m.-7 a.m. For residential properties, the decibel limits are 70 A decibels and 80 C decibels during daytime hours and 50 A decibels and 60 C decibels during nighttime hours.
Council adopted the ordinance changes with an extension on Fridays and Saturdays until 11 p.m. for non-residential properties.
The lower decibel limits could be a relief for some Town Center residents.
“I 100 percent support what Mr. Roberts has set forth,” resident Jonathan Garred said. “I think we should try it and see how it works.”
Impacts of new changes
The Lone Star Grille property originally opened in 2012 under different owners as a restaurant and live music venue called Reunion Grille. According to city documents, the developers of the property received an infrastructure reimbursement to upgrade CR 180, though the deal also came with a performance agreement for the project.
The city approved up to $150,000 for construction costs of the roadway, and the performance agreement required the property to maintain “the operation of a full-service, sit-down restaurant and entertainment venue featuring … 1,375 square feet of air-conditioned space accommodating a total of 320 sit-down guests … and an outdoor stage for live musical performances for not less than 11 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The property still has the same owner, Blount Investments, but the operators of Reunion Grille closed the business in 2013. Rick Redmond opened the vacant space as Lone Star Grille in 2014.
“[City Council members] incentivized a facility to be a music venue, and now they’re saying, ‘You can’t play anything after 10 o’clock; you have to close down’—that’s what they’re basically doing,” Redmond said. “If they’re going to pass this ordinance at 65 decibels measured at basically the fence, there’s no way you can have outdoor [big acts].”
Phil Brewer, the economic development director with the city, said at that time the city was looking for more live music venues around town, and Reunion Grille seemed like a good fit. He said the 2011 performance agreement was not intended for the property to solely be an entertainment venue.
“The intention was always that there would be a music component associated with [the project], but I don’t think the intent when we did this was going to be music seven days a week in that regard at all,” he said.
Redmond said Lone Star Grille operates as a family restaurant until larger music acts start around 9:45 p.m., so he said the larger bands could not play earlier. He also said most of his customer base comes for the music acts around 10 p.m.
During a demonstration March 3 with Community Impact Newspaper, Redmond used a decibel meter to measure the sound at his property line. With no outdoor live music playing, levels were recorded above 65 decibels, which is no longer allowed under the new ordinance after 10 p.m., or after 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
“This ordinance condemns this facility,” he said.
Dickensheets said the business could build onto the kitchen to block the noise, build a wall by the property line or redirect the sound system to steer sound down into the venue.
“This does not at all limit how much sound they can make within the venue; it just limits what can go outside the venue,” he said.
Richard Blount, the landlord for the Lone Star Grille property, said he would have to approve all building changes, but he could give permission to build a wall if Redmond can find funds.
Redmond said he cannot build onto the kitchen or afford to build a wall along the property line. Roberts said city staff has not had any discussions on whether the city could help with costs.
Comparisons and city impact
During Feb. 23 discussions on the ordinance changes, several City Council members and residents said Cedar Park’s allowable sound should not be significantly higher than the decibel limits for restaurants with outdoor music venues in Austin.
For outdoor music at a restaurant, the city of Austin caps the maximum limit to 70 A decibels, according to the Austin Police Department.
“If you’re looking at noise values, I would think Austin would have tested these about as much as anyone in the country,” Cedar Park Mayor Matt Powell said.
Cedar Park’s decibel limits are applicable to businesses and residential properties within the city limits and 600 feet into the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. An exemption for construction noise, which is allowed between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. if the work is within 600 feet of a home, was not changed.
Redmond appeared before council again March 9 and asked elected officials not to rush into a decision.
“I ask you to really look at this before you make a vote,” he said.
Some council members said Lone Star Grille was the city’s only main outdoor live music venue now, but others could come in the future. Several said they were concerned about the unintended consequences of the stricter regulations since the ordinance affects the majority of properties in the city.
“This is not just about the Cedar Park Town Center and Lone Star Grille,” Council Member Kristyne Bollier said. “I’m trying to understand the other impacts beyond music venues or restaurants.”
Council members noted they would see how the new regulations work and decide if they need to make adjustments.
“We might have to come back in six months and look at this again,” Council Member Corbin Van Arsdale said.
Redmond said he may not renew his lease, which is up in the summer.