Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Council Recap: Ferris Wheel and Outdoor Music

Source: h/t DALL-E

On June 3, 2024, the Richardson City Council held a public hearing on a request for a new development in Restaurant Park on US 75 of a brew pub and food truck business with live outdoor music. Oh, and a 45 ft. Ferris Wheel. This was unanimously approved by City Council.

Objections to this development fall into three categories: noise, light, and traffic.

Most of the Council deliberations seemed to me to be distractions from the fundamental question at hand: is this an appropriate land use for this location? Except for the Ferris Wheel, the City Council answered yes to that question several years ago when they approved the "Old 75 Beer Garden" for this site. It's City Council's job to decide whether the use itself is appropriate. It's not City Council's job to make sure that all safety, noise, and light ordinances will be followed. That should all be in the Staff report.

City Councilmember Jennifer Justice was concerned about light pollution from the Ferris Wheel. She wanted assurance that conditions placed on approval would be such that the building's height and placement would block light from the Ferris Wheel to be blocked from view from the neighborhood. Director of the Development Services Sam Chavez assured her of that.

Mayor Pro Tem Arefin was also concerned about light pollution, but he also was concerned about the safety of passengers stuck on the Ferris Wheel in a power outage. He was told that the clutch could be released and the wheel manually rotated.

City Councilmember Dan Barrios was concerned about safety as well. "The thing we've heard about the most is the Ferris Wheel. Help me understand, is this just placed on the ground on concrete or are there pilings? Help me understand how this ties in and what it does." Chavez replied that this is "probably best answered by the applicant." Later, when Councilmember Ken Hutchenrider expressed a fire safety concern, City Manager Don Magner put an end to the safety questions by putting the burden on the State, saying that annual safety inspections are the responsibility of the State. Thankfully the City Council is now relieved of this burden.

City Councilmember Joe Corcoran thought the use was appropriate. He joked, "I've been to the Truck Yard in my 20s more times than I can count, on Greenville Avenue, and my only guidelines are that children should have enough seating, that you fixed, and recently you guys got rid of pre-made Mojitos. So, you know, what's up with that?" All in good humor, but he really shouldn't have dismissed the neighborhood issues with light, sound, and traffic without at least some explanation. He appeared to be too glib. That's my job.

City Councilmember Ken Hutchenrider dismissed neighborhood concerns, but gave reasons. He called light pollution a non-issue. The Ferris Wheel will be 45 feet high. The building between the Ferris Wheel and the neighborhood will be 40 feet high. Hutchenrider said, "To me it would be that the building is in essence going to block all the light off that Ferris Wheel." I expect he's right, but to eliminate the issue completely, someone should have asked the applicant to build a five-foot high light and sound buffer on top of the building.

Hutchenrider also dismissed the noise complaint. He said, "We already have existing language in our ordinances as far as sound in decibels...Any noise coming from this entity, obviously would have to meet that. Your decibel level is going to be significantly less than that decibel level, I think, from what I'm understanding, but regardless, citizens can rest assured that we have that protection level as well, if there was ever a noise complaint, if you will, we've got that [covered] from, I'll call it an enforcement standpoint."

I doubt the neighbors will be as assured as Hutchenrider. If the noise really will be "significantly less" than the code maximum, the owner should be willing to restrict the maximum decibel level for his development below code. If the current code is reasonable, why the complaints about the noise from music from the Old 75 Beer Garden? One woman, a member of the public who opposed this application, said about the prior business at this site, "If the decibel meter levels were acceptable then there's a problem with the code because I shouldn't have to be sitting in my house and listening to what's going on at a business down the street...I made a complaint with the police department. One officer told me that the parking lot is cool, they're making money, so I need to just get used to the noise and deal with it."

The applicant argued, "Our music is over at nine o'clock during the weekdays and it's over at 11 at the latest on weekends." This too belongs in the conditions of the application. But even if these hours are adhered to, that's not an assurance that the noise ordinance will be honored during those hours.

It seems to me that the City's noise ordinance itself is inadequate to prevent complaints. The City's whole approach strikes me as not serious. The City website page titled "Environmental Health" has a link to a page to learn more about "Noise", a link that has a URL that references mosquitoes ( That "Noise" page says, "The level of what is reasonable noise is determined by a decibel scale and the frequency of the noise." The actual ordinance goes into detail about, for example, "MAXIMUM PERMISSIBLE DAYTIME OCTAVE BAND DECIBEL LIMITS AT OR WITHIN THE BOUNDING OF A RESIDENTIAL DISTRICT." If it attempts to define "NIGHTTIME LIMITS" I couldn't find it. If it attempts to define what's considered an impermissable frequency of occurrence of excessive noise, daytime or nighttime, I couldn't find it, either. I couldn't find how complaints are handled. It seems to me that enforcement would require constant monitoring by the City to ensure future compliance. What threshold would have to be crossed for the City to do such monitoring? Unless such practices are well thought out and implemented, the City's enforcement of a noise ordinance is not serious.

Neither the City Council, nor the City Manager, took these noise concerns seriously. No matter what the facts in any particular complaint as it pertains to live outdoor music, the City's standard answer might just be, "Get used to the noise and deal with it."

City Councilmember Dan Barrios requested that the public hearing be continued until next week to give the neighborhood more time to provide input. He said, "It's not just the [storm damage] emergency declaration, but it's about the fact that this neighborhood, part of it still does not have power. It's about the concentration of the amount of people. It was one of the hardest hit areas when it comes to power loss."

Barrios's motion failed for lack of a second. This Council's Goals include having "processes and policies that make it easy for residents, employees and all stakeholders to interact with the City." How easy is it for a neighborhood without power for a week after a storm to organize opposition to a proposed development in their neighborhood? A one week extension of the time for the neighborhood to respond to this request is eminently reasonable. Denial tells me that the rest of the City Council does not take community's input seriously, no matter what their Goals claim.

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

"Trucks with food and cheer.
Outdoor music fills the air.
Neighbors' fears ignored."

—h/t ChatGPT

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