A year and a half after a riot on University Hill left windows smashed in and a car overturned, city officials have passed a policy they hope will prevent an event like that from ever happening again: they’ve banned “unreasonably” loud amplified noise that can be heard from 200 feet away.
All Boulder residents will have to keep loud noises to a minimum, even during the day, thanks to the update to the city’s noise ordinances passed by the city council on Thursday, Sept. 1. The ordinance will also let police officers issue tickets for loud amplified noise without a complaint.
“If an officer determines that the daytime amplified noise is egregious, and that it constitutes a nuisance party violation, the officer may order participants to cease the social gathering and disperse immediately,” said Deputy City Attorney Sandra Llanes in a presentation to council members.
In an 8-1 vote, the city council passed the ordinance after two hours of discussion and public comment. The emergency noise ordinance will go into effect immediately, as opposed to the standard 30-day waiting period, specifically to match the start of the University of Colorado Boulder’s school year. Some university students and members of Greek life say that the policy is unnecessary, while other residents and at least one city official say the ordinances shouldn’t apply citywide.
The new noise regulations were first introduced to the council in June of 2022 and are part of a broader set of solutions proposed by the University Hill Revitalization Working Group (HRWG). The group is made up of Hill residents and CU Boulder student government representatives, as well as city and university officials.
The working group was created in 2015 and was tasked with improving the “quality of life” on the Hill after a riot that took place in March of 2021. Several university students were arrested after the riot, which left a car overturned and heavily damaged a police SWAT vehicle.
“A more peaceful and welcoming environment.”
The city’s previous noise ordinance prohibited loud electronically amplified noise, such as music through a speaker, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Now, that ban extends to all unreasonably loud amplified noise that can be heard from about a city block away, and 100 feet at night, at all hours of the day.
Police will not be required to use a decibel reader to determine if the noise is loud enough to issue a ticket.
“Because of this new ordinance, [police] will be able to just pace off the 200 feet in order to determine whether there was a violation or not, so it makes it very simple,” Llanes said.
Officers will also be able to fine violators of the noise ordinances without receiving a complaint. The previous rules required a neighbor to sign a complaint form before officers could ticket residents or property owners. Now, supporters say the ordinance will speed up response times and put the job of enforcing the noise limits back in the hands of police.
Part of the goal of this ordinance is to stop large parties before they grow out of control, which officials say was one of the factors that caused the March 2021 riot.
“A lot of the parties start earlier, and then they grow,” Llanes said. “Unfortunately, by the time we’re allowed to enforce at 11 p.m., they’ve grown to a size that is difficult to manage. This will give us an opportunity to address them earlier.”
While the noise ordinance takes effect citywide, it’s meant to have the most impact on Boulder’s neighborhoods that receive the most noise complaints, according to Brenda Ritenour, the city’s neighborhood liaison.
“[The ordinance] would create a more peaceful and welcoming environment for everyone,” said Ritenour, reading comments the city received from residents in support of the new regulations. “It would provide a clear standard of expectation for neighbors, and it could improve relations between students and neighbors in the University Hill neighborhood.”
The ban does not apply to unamplified noise, such as crowds, lawnmowers or cars. Some exceptions also apply to amplified noise; fire alarms, sirens or noise from a city-sanctioned event will not be subject to the ordinance.
For the HRWG, this change is only the start of a sweeping set of proposals they first sent to the city council for review early this summer. The group is proposing additional penalties for noise and trash violations, alongside landlord training and new methods of trash cleanup.
“Better things to do than deal with noise ordinances.”
Devin Cramer, CU Boulder’s acting dean of students, supports the new ordinance. Cramer said that the change in city policy will allow CU Boulder to intervene more often when student behavior is reported to the university by Boulder Police.
“This municipal code change can increase [Boulder Police] referrals, thus increasing our early interventions, changing behavior and creating a more cohesive Hill environment,” he said.
Of the city’s nine council members, only Council member Nicole Speer voted against the proposal. She expressed concerns that the ordinance would be applied to the entirety of the city and suggested a pilot project where the new noise rules would apply only to the Hill area.
During public comment, 16 people spoke in front of the city council. Eight people, both previous and current Hill residents, spoke out in support of the proposal.
“The intense stress [the noise] brings people has caused neighbors to flee the neighborhood, which has accelerated its decline,” said Lisa Nelson, a member of the HRWG and a representative of the University Hill Neighborhood Association. “Then those houses have been purchased by investors, who fill them full of more students.”
Another eight residents, six of them CU Boulder fraternity members, expressed concern about the new regulations.
“The police had better things to do than deal with noise ordinances,” said Evan Humphrey, a CU Boulder junior and president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. “We are able to handle these issues by ourselves and are more than happy to listen to the police that we work with.”
Many of the residents who argued against the ordinance are members of the Undergraduate Interfraternity Council at CU (IFC on the Hill), a student-led group that oversees 23 fraternities on the Hill. Members of the IFC on the Hill say they were not consulted about the proposed change to noise ordinances.
“Rather than a resident calling in a noise complaint, the residents are expecting the Boulder Police Department to ride around with noise meters in their cars, writing up all of the noise violations that the police can find,” said Mike Smith, an IFC on the Hill Greek Advocate, in a statement provided to the CU Independent.
Boulder Chief of Police Maris Herold, who was in attendance at the council meeting, objected to the idea that police officers could be more effective elsewhere.
“The community harm caused by large parties is real,” Herold said. “[There is] no better use of a police officer’s time than making sure the community isn’t harmed.”
Contact CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Henry Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org.