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Halifax floats idea of 'entertainment district,' separate noise rules

Halifax city staff are examining the idea of creating a downtown "entertainment district" with its own noise rules, a zone that would set standards for bar owners but also signal to the growing influx of residents that they should understand it's a loud area.

City staff working on a report to council due in the spring

Halifax city staff are examining the idea of creating a downtown entertainment district. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

Halifax city staff are examining the idea of creating a downtown "entertainment district" with its own noise rules, a zone that would set standards for bar owners but also signal to the growing influx of residents that they should understand it's a loud area.

Municipal spokesperson Brendan Elliott said in an effort to find middle ground between downtown nightlife and downtown dwellers, staff have been reviewing several aspects of Halifax's noise bylaw.

One idea is to create an entertainment district where people should expect it to be loud. Staff are also looking at the Good Neighbour policy in Toronto, which has a combination of mandatory requirements for bars and "best practice" suggestions.

"What it does essentially is it puts the onus on bar owners to recognize their surroundings and act accordingly," Elliott said. "So that when they know that there's a condominium next door to a bar, does it make sense to have loudspeakers on the outside of your bar?"

The Dome is a well-known Halifax dance bar. (CBC)

Staff are working on a report to municipal council that should be delivered in the spring. They have not yet determined the boundaries or hours for an entertainment district.

"It would ultimately be a decision of regional council what that district would look like," Elliott said. "We would definitely be consulting with neighbourhoods that would be directly affected by a good neighbours policy."

Paul MacKinnon, the executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, said more people are moving into the downtown. He said the noise rules in downtown are generally the same as suburban areas, and that doesn't work in an area with lots of nightlife.

"Certainly, what we would like to see is a recognition that this is a busy area that has a vibrant nightlife," he said.

"We don't want to see that curtailed, but at the same time obviously we want to see more and more residential coming to the downtown. So we just feel it's fair to set a level of expectation that, if you are coming to live in an urban environment, a bit more noise is probably just going to be part of the package."

Tim Rissesco, the executive director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, said although downtown living continues to be popular he hasn't heard many complaints from residents about local bars.

"Their customers are often the people that live around them," he said. Complaints he has heard from time to time, he said, are motorcycles and cars, and sometimes people walking in the area, making loud noises late at night.

City staff are also considering granting noise exemptions for specific events like Jazzfest or Buskers, so organizers would not have to apply to regional council for the same exemption every year. 

Applying for an exemption takes between eight and 10 weeks, and Elliott said sometimes event organizers fail to leave enough time to get the full approvals. In future, staff might be able to handle some requests using criteria defined by council. 

"Then if the criteria is met, then it doesn't need to go before regional council," Elliott said. "In many cases that can reduce the time frame for approvals by a couple of weeks."