One side tried to compromise; the other dug in.
Sarnia city council sided with the latter.
The result is no noise-bylaw exemption for Valley Axe, nixing its aims to hold outdoor concerts and comedy shows to 11 p.m. on its 1.6-hectare property beside Green Haven Estates.
Neighbours in the retirement community were riled by noise from concerts in 2020, so 175 signed a petition protesting Valley Axe’s ask for blanket Friday and Saturday noise exemptions between May 21 and Oct. 30 in 2021.
Sarnia’s bylaw limits “noise deemed likely to disturb” after 9 p.m. in commercial and agricultural areas. There’s no specific decibel limit, city officials have said.
Valley Axe’s intention was to use only some of the requested dates and have the others open for manoeuvrability amid fluctuating restrictions on businesses because of COVID-19, said Bo Tait, one of the owners.
Council last October gave the sides until February to try to figure out an agreement.
Valley Axe came back with two proposals – the final for nine dates total, including five for live music, and the rest for comedy and other acts.
There’s ample room for physical distancing on the property, Tait said.
Neighbours rejected the proposals outright, with spokesperson Hugh Kerr citing concerns about window-rattling noise impacting the health of residents, some with health concerns who try to get to sleep by 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.
“That was the main issue,” said the Green Haven resident, noting the distance from the stage to his back fence is a mere 128 metres away – a par three on a golf course – but that the sound was a nuisance throughout the park.
Council sided 6-3 with the neighbours in its decision earlier this month.
“I was really happy with the decision and so was everybody else in the community,” Kerr said.
Previously, the spokesperson said he would have been open to monthly concerts, something Tait said he was trying to match with his bids at compromise. Proposals also included donating some proceeds to local charities.
Others in Green Haven didn’t share his point of view, Kerr said.
“It was a consensus of the people that live here in the park that any live music until 11 p.m. just wasn’t acceptable to them.”
Tait said he’s disappointed.
The socially distanced concerts brought in enough revenue to help Valley Axe survive the latest provincial lockdown, lifted Tuesday, he said.
“Really, we have a lot bigger fish to fry,” he said, noting the venue is focused on reopening now after losing “hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue” amid shutdowns and restrictions since last March.
He didn’t rule out daytime concerts going forward, which wouldn’t require a noise-bylaw exemption.
“You can’t take anything off the table,” he said, noting daytime concerts have been tried before but didn’t attract as many people.
Noise exemptions were granted for music events at the venue in 2018, he said.
“There wasn’t backlash like this.”
Coun. Bill Dennis, amid council deliberations, reiterated his October position, calling the impasse an unfortunate situation.
He ultimately sided with the neighbours.
“I am sympathetic to both sides and was truly hopeful a consensus could have been reached, but this did not happen,” he said, calling his vote a matter of “the stability and sanctity of our neighbourhoods.”
Mayor Mike Bradley commended Tait on trying to find common ground.
“I think this is a reasonable compromise,” he said.
He and Couns. Nathan Colquhoun and Brian White voted in favour of granting the exemptions.
Dennis and Couns. George Vandenberg, Dave Boushy, Margaret Bird, Mike Stark and Terry Burrell voted against.
Burrell, who’d made the initial call in October for more time for the sides to come to an agreement, said the sticking point for him was the noise.
“They don’t seem to be clicking into the fact that they could probably be doing things outside if they just made it a whole lot quieter,” he said.
How quiet is quiet enough is subjective in the city’s bylaw, Tait said.
“And if it’s so quiet that it’s not bothering anyone, why would we need a noise exemption?”