Last summer, Batala Durham drummers brought the beat to Durham Central Park, but not everyone liked it.
The police were called, drum rehearsals were interrupted, and city leaders got involved. In the end, fall arrived and the drummers moved their practices inside.
Now with spring coming, the drummers will return to the park in May.
The city is looking at amending its noise ordinance so Batala Durham and other unamplified musicians are free to play at Durham Central Park between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily.
City Attorney Patrick Baker told the City Council last week with more apartments downtown, “there has become a heightened awareness to managing the compatibility of traditional non-industrial noise generating activities with the expectations of the newer downtown residents.”
It was a resident of Liberty Warehouse Apartments, the luxury apartments in a renovated old tobacco warehouse, who called police to complain about the noise. But other residents were fine with the drum rehearsals.
Batala co-founder Justin Pomeroy is glad the city is working on a permanent fix, but said drum rehearsals go until 8:30 p.m., a half-hour later than the city is considering.
Caique Vidal, another co-founder, grew up in Brazil where he said music in the streets is the norm. He teaches Afro-Brazilian drums and moved here from the Raleigh/Wake Forest area because of the arts and culture.
Vidal said in August that Batala wants the new residents of Durham Central Park to understand that “Durham is a vibrant city that supports the arts.”
Interviewed last summer, Harriet Sava, a Liberty Warehouse Apartments resident agreed. She could hear Batala’s drum rehearsal from her apartment and said, “I just think this is part of our community.”
City Council member Charlie Reece then took up Batala’s cause, proposing the city revisit the noise ordinance.
Six months later, Baker is proposing changing the ordinance to say: “Sounds emanating from unamplified musical performances held at Durham Central Park between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.”
Baker said granting temporary written permission for Batala’s rehearsals would be unnecessarily cumbersome.
Pomeroy said they planned to request the permissions again this year starting mid-May but want it to be until 8:30 p.m.
“If 8 p.m. is the cutoff, I guess we work with that, but that seems a little early in the summer months. I’d like to see it go a little past 8 o’clock,” Pomeroy said.
People should have some expectations of having some noise living in that area, moving downtown.
Justin Pomeroy of Batala Durham
He said a noise amendment, if the council passes it, opens up use of the park to more people. He called last summer’s complaints ridiculous.
“People should have some expectations of having some noise living in that area, moving downtown. It’s called Durham Central Park because it’s central to Durham,” Pomeroy said. He said Batala will try to be good neighbors and respectful. The attention last summer had some benefit, though. Membership in Batala has doubled to about 35 people, Pomeroy said. And he heard that the resident who complained has moved. But there’s another new apartment building going up on the other side of the park.
And One City Center, Durham’s skyscraper going up in the heart of downtown, will have people living there, too.
Some council members want the city to look at amending the noise ordinance for more than just Durham Central Park music.
Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said the proposed amendment addresses a specific concern, but could be too narrow.
“I feel like other areas of town are going to see the same issues rising,” Johnson said. “We need to consider more and broader changes to the policy, and not just Central Park.”
Baker said the city hasn’t looked at decibel readings in at least 20 years, and that daily noise downtown exceeds ordinance limits all the time.
Reece was sick and not at the council work session when Baker made his recommendation to the council. He said it came out of a back and forth with Reece. Baker said that the council could just pass this amendment and still take a broader look at the noise ordinance later.
Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton is ready to go ahead and deal with the amendment.
“This is an example of government trying to respond to constituents in a very specific way,” he said. “We know the story of the drummers and the park.”
Council member DeDreana Freeman suggested the noise ordinance could be taken up by the city’s environmental affairs board.
The council has not passed the amendment yet. Reece was out sick, so Mayor Steve Schewel said the council should anticipate passing the amendment at its Feb. 19 meeting after hearing from Reece.
Schewel also referred the broader noise ordinance issue to the environmental affairs board.