Local Commentary

Editorial: To Noise & Small Businesses

There are two prominent stories in this week’s edition that can be paired for maximum effect. One is about a study showing the City of Falls Church is the third best place in Virginia for small business. The other is this edition’s lead story about the F.C. City Council’s revisions to the City’s noise ordinance. In the latter case, the issue stewed before the Council for weeks as it struggled to find a balance that would both redress the concerns of City residents who have been complaining about noise coming from live music at outdoor venues in town and the needs of those establishments to stay in business amid the travails of the pandemic.

To one constituency, the music is too loud at almost any level above an unaccompanied song by a quasi-whispering Joni Mitchell or Donovan. To the other, such muted sounds can’t hold an audience such that their last resort to stay solvent in tough times is evaporated. It is a tribute to the City Council that it put as much time and energy into finding a balance to appease both groups as it has.

The new noise standards adopted by the Council by a 6-1 vote Monday are, however, probably not going to make anyone happy. Short of a move to hand out free earplugs to everyone in the community, there is hardly anything that the Council can do to assuage the disgruntled voices on both sides of the issue.

But the bigger point is that they’ve tried, tried a lot to respect the interests not only of the residents, but of the small businesses in question as well. While the small businesses have their champion on this issue in Councilman Ross Litkenhous, it was hard for his colleagues not to take his strident stand on increasing the noise limit to 75 decibels as measures on the City’s new noise meter seriously. His colleagues were not willing to push it above 65, which is less than an infrequent squeak from a noiseless Italian greyhound, but with the caveat, as expressed by Mayor David Tarter, that flexibility be the rule, with the door open to revisiting the matter at any time going forward.

So apparently it’s not going away. Tarter’s expressed interest in having a lively outdoor music scene in Falls Church means for grumpy residents they’re going to have to continue complaining. At least for Tarter, Litkenhous and actually everyone on the current Council, attending as best as is reasonable to the interests of the small businesses in the Little City is where prime values are placed.

This is definitely unique. While some look at what’s been happening in Falls Church since 2002 and see only large scale mixed use projects gaining their footholds here, the usual lip service to small business has also been met with some unpopular decisions that have helped shore up that critical ingredient to what makes a community fun and liveable, overall.