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New law eases rules on music at bars

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday signed into law a Liquor Code amendment that will allow “licensed establishments” to play music that is audible beyond their property lines, provided it’s no louder than 75 decibels.

“Going from 0 to 75 — that’s a lot,” said Joe Oberneder, president of the board of the Unter Uns Musical and Entertainment Society.

The Unter Uns brings in polka, oldies, ’40s, ’80s and German bands for weddings, Oktoberfest and other occasions, and, while it “tries to make sure they’re not too loud,” and shuts them down by 10 p.m., it’s impractical to ensure complete silence beyond the property line, according to Oberneder.

“(Now) we won’t have to worry as much,” he said. “It would (have) only take(n) one neighbor who’s disgruntled.”

The Knickerbocker doesn’t do live music, but plays recorded songs for patrons in the courtyard, which is surrounded by the building, making the music generally inaudible outside the property, said Jake Marion, a manager.

Now, presumably, management could turn up the volume a bit, because of Act 67, although “I don’t think it will have a whole lot of effect on us,” Marion said.

The new 75-decibel limit, which went into effect immediately, applies only from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 10 a.m. until midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

Municipalities can still petition the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for exemptions from the noise provisions of the Liquor Code on behalf of individual establishments or whole districts, according to LCB spokesman Shawn Kelly.

Exemptions may apply to noise level, distance from an establishment’s property line and time periods during which restrictions apply, according to Kelly.

Until now, those exemptions always relaxed the Liquor Code restrictions, as those restrictions didn’t allow any noise beyond the property line at any time.

Now, exemptions could go either way — either tightening or loosening the LCB limit, Kelly said.

Altoona periodically has petitioned the LCB for exemptions on Liquor Code noise restrictions on behalf of requesting establishments.

The new law may make such efforts moot, including two that are ongoing, because a city exemption actually results in a noise limit that is more restrictive — but only slightly so — than the one imposed by Act 67, according to city solicitor Tom Finn.

When an establishment obtains an exemption in Altoona, the city takes over noise enforcement for the establishment, based on the city’s noise ordinance, which sets a limit of 65 decibels at the property line of a potential complainant.

The practical difference between the city’s 65 decibels and the state’s 75 decibels “does not appear to be terribly significant,” Finn said.

The noise from a vacuum cleaner is about 75 decibels, according to a Yale web page.

“Roughly like an acoustic guitar,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, in a phone interview.

The sound of normal conversation is between 60 and 70 decibels, according to the Yale web page.

The “interplay” between the new law and local noise ordinances will need to be “fleshed out,” Finn said.

Earlier this year, City Council passed a resolution that resulted in a petition to the LCB for an exemption on behalf of Zach’s Sports & Spirits, so that Zach’s could renew an exemption it has been renewing periodically for 14 years.

The LCB held a public hearing at Zach’s in June, where it took testimony from city officials about the city’s capability and willingness to enforce the city noise ordinance — but where no members of the public showed up.

Zach’s plays outdoor music on a patio that is mostly enclosed.

On Monday, City Council passed a resolution declaring its intention to petition the LCB for an exemption on behalf of the Trianon Bar and Grille in Juniata.

The Trianon wants to play outdoor music for three hours on Friday or Saturday evenings on a lot near the bar where there is a pavilion, according to a letter from the law office representing the bar owner. The request was accompanied by a $1,000 check, payable to the city, according to the letter.

Previously, permission to have music as loud as 75 decibels at the property line was only applicable to “limited wineries.”

Act 67 “balance(s) the playing field for all liquor licensees, giving each the same rights that wineries already had,” Moran wrote in a news release.

The association has been lobbying for the change for three years, Moran wrote.

COVID restrictions on indoor dining, which led to a push for outdoor dining, gave the effort additional impetus, according to Moran.

Now, establishments don’t need to “hesitate” for fear of a citation, he wrote.

The change was made through an amendment proposed by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, on a bill sponsored by Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford.

The 75-decibel limit applies throughout the state, except in Philadelphia and Allegheny counties.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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