With a reputation for music, Dallas' Deep Ellum neighborhood can get loud. But as city leaders push for tougher city-wide code enforcement, Deep Ellum is also just one part of a city making no exceptions when it comes to noise.
Deep Ellum businesses, pushing to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, say they’ve been unfairly treated with citations that are a nuisance.
City Council Member Jesse Moreno said a Deep Ellum task force has been brokering solutions that could include a noise exemption.
“Deep Ellum has always been a music, cultural experience,” Moreno said. “The idea is to carve out a subsection of Deep Ellum where there is a limited number of residents and a big majority of venues.”
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The issue came up Monday at a Dallas City Council Public Safety Committee meeting where a habitual offender code enforcement law was being considered after prior requests for tougher enforcement from council members.
Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune said the law was on track for final city council approval next month.
“The item before you today was drafted with the intent of getting this body’s feedback. You’ve heard the staff say, we’re ready to go,” Fortune said.
The new law would boost penalties for locations with three or more citations. It included no exemptions for Deep Ellum noise.
“Absent there being defined lines, where you can actually exceed the decibel rating or have a live band, there are no districts that are established in that way,” Code Enforcement Director Carl Simpson said.
Councilman Casey Thomas said he was not anxious to crack down on sound in Deep Ellum if it was to support gentrification by newcomers living in expensive, new Deep Ellum apartments.
“Because sometimes privileged people feel, I live here now, things shouldn't be this way,” Thomas said.
Other members supported tougher enforcement elsewhere in the city.
North Dallas Council member Cara Mendelsohn mentioned a car wash that annoys neighbors and an office building parking garage where late-night parties spring up.
“This is an every weekend event. This is really detrimental to the lives of the people who live nearby,” Mendelsohn said.
Since Dallas Code Enforcement officers generally do not work at night and are not trained to deal with circumstances where violence or alcohol may be involved, police support could be required for some of the code enforcement proposals.
Dallas Chief of Police Eddie Garcia did not welcome adding in new responsibilities for police.
“We look at every issue and come up with a plan outside our violent crime reduction strategy,” Garcia said.
Moreno said some older apartments like Live Oak Lofts were home to residents before new music venues arrived nearby. He said they may deserve protection from noise.
But Moreno said a task force survey found most noise complaints were not coming from residents.
“We think a lot of it is operators calling on other operators because they got a warning or they got a citation and they feel that it's unfair,” Moreno said.
Recommendations from the task force on what is fair are due Thursday but it will take longer for city approval of new laws or policies.
"We have to have buy-in and the discussion with the people who live in the proximity so everyone thrives," Moreno said.
In the meantime, the habitual nuisance code enforcement crackdown appears to be on hold.