Downtown residents seek limits on amplified street music

Street musicians perform near the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station. (Brian Kapur/The Current/December 2013)

Some residents and business owners are lobbying the D.C. Council to impose tighter regulations on amplified street performances, citing disturbances to work and home life.

Kelvin Stevens, a longtime homeowner at the Residences at Gallery Place, 777 7th St. NW, said in an interview that he can hear buskers from his sixth-floor condo for hours every day.

“Three years ago is when they started to amplify it,” Stevens said of the street performers. “No one ever had a problem until they started to amplify the music.”

Stevens attributed “new technology” to this noticeable shift.

“We pray for rain, because when it rains they don’t come out,” he added. “That’s the only time we have peace and quiet.”

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C (downtown, Penn Quarter) voted unanimously in September to urge the council to hold hearings and adopt legislation regulating busking.

“Downtown is growing. There are more businesses, more people, more entertainers, which is all good,” ANC 2C chair John Tinpe said in an interview. “But we have to have some limitations, rules and regulations in order for all to exist harmoniously.”

Tinpe argued that D.C.’s Noise Control Act is outdated and challenging to enforce, because it measures sound according to decibels only and outdoor noise is difficult to measure without picking up other sounds.

Howard Marks, who also lives at the Residences at Gallery Place, wrote to Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans Sept. 21 urging regulations on buskers. Marks claimed that noise levels, which are legally permitted to reach 65 decibels if they’re for commercial purposes, often exceed 83 decibels. “Unlike a train which passes in minutes, the busker noise can go on for hours,” Marks wrote.

Evans has no current plans to introduce legislation that would regulate busking, his spokesperson Joe Florio told The Current.

John Fanning, chair of ANC 2F (Logan Circle), expressed support for the notion of revising current regulations on public performers, but the issue hasn’t yet come before his commission. “I would imagine that the noise level produced by these amplifiers is having a very negative impact on the quality of life for the residents,” Fanning wrote in an email.

Next up, advocates for busking regulation are slated to attend the October meetings of ANC 2B (Dupont Circle) and ANC 2D (Sheridan-Kalorama) to urge action on the issue. Those meetings are scheduled for Oct. 11 and Oct. 16, respectively.