Several years ago, an overly ambitious Patchogue Village official tried to rush through legislation banning the playing of all repetitive, amplified music—specifically, those annoying jingles coming from ice cream trucks that continually circled the village in the summer. The official, who received multiple complaints about the music, figured the fastest and easiest solution would be an all-out ban, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
What the official did not realize—at least not until a fellow board member grabbed the village code book and flipped open to the section on amplified music—was that rules were already in place to regulate amplified music. The real problem, it was soon discovered, was that no one knew the rules, some of which were drafted in the 1960s and never updated. And, more importantly, there was no one out enforcing the rules, leading to the rash of complaints.
Though the Village of Westhampton Beach is not facing an identical situation, the circumstances are strikingly similar. The primary difference in Westhampton Beach’s case is that the music is coming from live performers, namely bands that use amplifiers, not ice cream trucks. But, like Patchogue, Westhampton Beach has existing tools in the village code to regulate and curtail the music. And, like Patchogue, it should use those tools rather than enact sweeping legislation to ban most outdoor amplified music in the business district, a move that might have unintended consequences down the road.
The Westhampton Beach Village Board, which awards outdoor music permits each year, needs to make it abundantly clear before approving the permits that applicants must adhere to all terms of the agreements. If those terms are violated, and a single citation is issued, the village should immediately revoke a permit, leaving the business owner without music until he or she applies for a new permit the following year. (Right now, the board can revoke a permit only after two violations.) Additionally, citations must be issued if the owner continues to offer live outdoor music, and fines must be levied and collected.
It should not be a difficult task considering that only three businesses on Main Street secured permits for amplified outdoor music last summer, while a fourth applied after the fact and was subsequently denied. If village officials want business owners to comply, they need to stop slapping violators on the wrist and smack them where it hurts—their wallets and pocketbooks. It is no secret that live music draws customers to the village each summer, but that does not mean that rules should be tossed aside in the name of profit.
Also, code enforcement officers and Westhampton Beach Village Police need to take a more active role in ticketing violators and responding to noise complaints. And those complaining about excessive noise must file their complaints as soon as possible, not several weeks or months after the fact. For example, there were at least two violations last summer that should have prompted fines/tickets. In one of the incidents, the business owner did not even have a permit for amplified outdoor music—a fact that the café’s manager acknowledged during a public meeting. Still, no fine was issued, namely because the village was not notified about the violation until mid-October, weeks after the fact. Adding insult to injury, at least for those complaining about the noise, the Village Board encouraged the manager to apply for a permit next year, noting that her past transgressions would not be held against her.
Not a single board member asked why the manager thought it was okay to offer such entertainment without a permit, and no one dared to suggest that there should be some sort of punishment, such as a one-year ban on her applying for a music permit. Again, no fines were issued. That is not the way to run a village.
Instead of taking the easy way out and banning nearly all amplified outdoor music, the village needs to be proactive in clearly explaining the rules to those applying for permits, and should come down hard on those who knowingly and repeatedly violate the code. And updating the village’s noise ordinances, which have not been overhauled since the 1960s, should be the focus of discussions this winter. The goal should be to let the music play, in moderation and within the rules.