SAINT JOHN – Local show organizer Peter Rowan was standing outside Taco Pica on a night in late October having a debate with a police officer. The local band, Little You, Little Me, was playing inside and they were out on the sidewalk discussing acceptable levels of noise.
A neighbourhood resident had called in a noise complaint, which sparked the debate when the officer arrived on the scene.
“The guys are playing their set, and they’re loud,” admitted Rowan. “[They’re] playing their loudest song, which is so loud it’s just ridiculous…Then the door opened in the middle of the loudest song and the cop and I just started laughing, because there was no debate. Yeah, that’s too loud.”
It was a moment of levity in what has otherwise been an acrimonious battle between residents in newly renovated apartments in the uptown core and musicians and their fans taking part in a revitalized cultural scene.
After the laughter subsided, the police officer still issued Rowan a ticket for excessive noise. But when he appeared in court Tuesday, Rowan and fellow organizer Abigail Smith learned that the police had dropped the matter and the ticket wouldn’t have to be paid.
“The cop approached us and told us the cop who issued us the ticket wasn’t around, but that they had discussed it and it was getting thrown out,” said Smith. “What he seemed to explain to us was that Taco Pica was a venue and … when the ticket was issued it seemed to be a reasonable time to be making noise. I think they just decided it didn’t make sense to go any further with it.”
In the future, Rowan says the officer told them to give them a heads up about future shows at Taco Pica.
“There’s a constable who is in charge of the uptown area,” said Rowan. ‘They want us to let them know when we’re doing a show.”
It’s another sign, he said, that the city is willing to find a solution to what is essentially a “good news story,” says Rowan, about a growing community of people that just need to learn how to get along with each other.
“It was a single usage place that nobody came to,” he said. “Now we have people living here and we have people working here.”
Smith said the current bylaw doesn’t reflect that character of an area that has changed dramatically. “It paints the picture of a space that’s really industrial and no one really lives there,” said Smith.
Rowan said the bylaw also doesn’t set objective measures for sound limits, or hours where more noise is permissible.
The bylaw may be dated and lack clarity, but the police are cutting them some slack and the city government has also reached out to them as well.
“When this issue started getting some press Jeffrey Cyr, one of the city planners, reached out to get us together,” said Rowan. “He came with a presentation about what the city is trying to do. They’re talking about doing things to make it easier to do adjustments to historical buildings.”
One of the issues with buildings like the ones that house Taco Pica is they don’t have proper soundproofing. Rowan and Smith recently helped organize a benefit there and raised $3,000 to do things like construct a vestibule to cut down on noise when people open the front door in the middle of a show, the source of the most bothersome noise they said.
Rowan and Smith said the city is looking at using a portion of the heritage buildings fund to help address issues like this. They’re also working on bylaw changes to make the parameters more clear and reflect the current make-up and character of the neighbourhood.
In the meantime, Rowan said the city is suggesting “a good neighbour policy.”
“Basically, all of the people who are promoting and doing work [should reach] a consensus as to what is reasonable usage,” he said.
The model for that kind of policy is nearby, said Rowan.
Just down the street from Taco Pica is another popular long-time music venue, Callaghan’s Pub. It occupies the ground floor of a historic waterfront building that is also home to pricey, renovated condos.
“[Callaghan’s] negotiated with the people who live above them,” he said, “and came to the conclusion that weekdays and Sundays shows are done by 11 pm. No live music past 11.”
Rowan hopes they can also come up with a reasonable compromise and he appreciates the city’s attempt to help them navigate this period of adjustment to the rapid growth of the commercial and residential components of the urban core.
“They’re trying to figure out a way to move through this and find something that promoters and users of this area, plus the residents, can come to some sort of agreement on.”