Don't look for live music on warm summer evenings at the Detroit Lakes Zorbaz any time soon — the popular bar and restaurant on the DL beach hasn't applied for a noise permit from the city that would allow it to host live music until midnight.
And when local band Hardwood Groove played at a Zorbaz for a Lakeshirts employee appreciation event Friday night on Memorial Day weekend, it was shut down at 11:15 p.m. after a neighbor complained to police.
"Lakeshirts has had its employee appreciation party here for close to two decades now," said Zorbaz owner Tate Jansen, "always on Friday of Memorial weekend — they always have a cool local band, it was Hardwood Groove this year ... it's not like they play heavy metal."
The band has a mellow alternative rock, bluegrass sound, kind of like the Grateful Dead with a twist. The Lakeshirts private party lasted from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., then the bar was open to the public.
"It was an appropriate volume for a holiday weekend — we didn't think we were in violation," Jansen said.
But it doesn't take too much to be in violation of the city's noise ordinance — which kicks in at 10 p.m. and dictates that music cannot be audible over 50 feet away from the source.
In the past, Zorbaz has taken advantage of a special city noise permit, which allowed it to host music that can be heard up to 500 feet in any direction until midnight.
Last year, Zorbaz obtained the noise permit for most weekends over the summer, except for during WE Fest, at a total cost of more than $2,000.
But it still ran afoul of the city's noise ordinance, being found in violation at 1:15 a.m. on June 4, at 12:30 a.m. on Aug. 20, and at 12:23 a.m. on Aug. 27.
In September, the city council voted to suspend Zorbaz' 2 a.m. liquor license for three days over a weekend, requiring it to stop serving alcohol at 1 a.m. on those days. Alderman Jay Schurman cast the sole dissenting vote on the sanctions.
In response, Zorbaz canceled its live music indefinitely, saying it's impossible to properly host live music, given the city noise ordinance and how it's enforced.
"Besides the Lakeshirts party, we aren't going to be hosting any live music ... the city threatened to take away our liquor license last fall," and that's a risk too great to take, Jansen said. "We would love to in the future — right now we're not allowed to host live music properly."
Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd said his department is obligated to enforce the noise ordinance, as it is obligated to enforce any other city ordinance or state law, but he would like to see Zorbaz get the special noise permit that would allow it to host live music until midnight.
The city noise ordinance is enforced based on complaints, he said. On busy summer weekends DL police officers already have their hands full and don't have time to do proactive noise ordinance enforcement. The shutdown on Memorial weekend came after a neighbor complained.
Jansen would like to see the city enact a noise ordinance based on decibels, which can be measured. "Fifty feet away and clearly audible is different for every human being," he said of the existing ordinance. "A lot of cities have decibel levels for their noise ordinances — the previous police chief suggested 75 decibels at 100 feet of the property line."
By comparison, living room music averages about 76 decibels, while radio or TV audio is generally about 70 decibels, as is a vacuum cleaner. A freeway at 50 feet from the pavement edge at 10 a.m. is about 76 decibels, according to IAC Acoustics, a leading noise control company.
State of Minnesota noise rules indicate that during a one-hour period of monitoring in a residential area, nighttime noise levels cannot exceed 55 decibels for more than 10 percent of the time and cannot exceed 50 decibels more than 50 percent of the time.
That's pretty low: 60 decibels equates to conversation in restaurant, office, background music, or an air conditioning unit at 100 feet, according to a chart compiled by IAC Acoustics.
The current city noise ordinance itself was written fairly recently as a compromise between neighbors and Zorbaz, and Jansen said there does not seem to be much support on the city council for a revamped noise ordinance, as only Schurman seems to support Zorbaz on the issue.