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Helena City Commission to hold public hearing on noise ordinance amendments

The City-County Building in downtown Helena.

The City-County Building in downtown Helena.

The Helena City Commission is holding a public hearing on potential amendments to local noise ordinances, which are largely unchanged since the current ordinances were enacted in 1972.

According to a memo from the city attorney's office, land not expressly included under the local definitions of "residential district" or "commercial district" is considered an "industrial district."

That means some districts, specifically R-4, R-U and OSR zoning districts, that are home residential properties are subject only to industrial district noise levels.

"The proposed ordinance fixes these problems by 1) amending the definition of 'residential district' to include lands within the R-4, R-U, and OSR zoning districts, and 2) amending the definition of 'commercial district' to include lands within the (downtown; transition; and public lands and institutions) zoning districts," the memo states.

The memo states staff's recommendation is for the city commission to instruct the city manager to bring an ordinance amending Title 5, Chapter 7 of the Helena City Code that will ensure the "necessary and appropriate noise restrictions apply in each of Helena’s zoning districts."

It represents a big change in permissible noise levels.

Helena Code dictates residential districts cap noise levels at 55 decibels, about what a person would experience during a conversation in a quiet living room, until 11 p.m. when noise levels in such districts are capped at 50 decibels.

Industrial districts cap noise levels at 80 and 75 decibels during the same time periods, respectively. That level is akin to a diesel freight train running at high speed.

The public hearing on the matter is scheduled to take place during Monday's regular city commission meeting, beginning at 6 p.m. Participate online at https://zoom.us/j/97538286223.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove a reference to concerts at Lewis and Clark Brewing Co. Although the city has received multiple emailed complaints about these concerts, City Manager Rachel Harlow-Schalk said in an interview the amendments have nothing to do with the venue, which is located in an unrelated zoning district.

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Local Government and Crime Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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