People and motorcycles jam downtown Digby during last year’s Wharf Rat Rally.
Anyone will be able to party, sing, dance and hold outdoor concerts until 1 a.m. in downtown Digby during the big three annual summer festivals, if town council approves the draft noise by-law they are considering.
Council voted at committee of the whole on Monday, June 16 to accept two minor amendments and to send the draft for second reading at the next council meeting, Monday, July 7.
The new by-law, if approved, will create an exemption for “noises from activities and events of annual festivals, parades, street dances, rallies, or other community activities funded, sponsored or licensed” by the town in commercial zones between 7 a.m and 1 a.m.
Town CAO Tom Ossinger explained it this way:
“If a licensed festival is being held in the downtown commercial zone, the whole zone is considered having the exemption.”
That effectively means that the whole of downtown Digby will be exempt from the Noise By-Law until 1 a.m. during Wharf Rat Rally, Lobster Bash and Scallop Days.
The 1 a.m. cut off would match exemptions in the Orderly and Peaceful Conduct By-law in the neighbouring Municipality of the District of Digby.
Councillor Brian Manzer explained his support of the by-law at the June 2 council meeting.
“All I hear is we don’t have any young people in town,” he said. “If we want young people, then we’re going to have to let them enjoy themselves. It’s only five nights a year.”
This rewrite of the town’s noise by-law began last fall when Dean Kenley, owner of the Fundy Complex including Club 98 on Water Street, wrote to council about the burden of applying for exemptions every year, three times a year for outdoor concerts during the town’s summer festivals.
“This is great news,” said Kenley. “Digby is huge when it comes to summer festivals, other places are drooling over what we have here.”
Kenley said in order to book performers for the festival weekends, he needed some certainty of his ability to hold outdoor concerts.
“During Wharf Rat we will go Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon until 1 a.m., 13 hours of outdoor entertainment,” he said. “If we have thousands and thousands of people in town, they want to be entertained, they aren’t coming because it’s going to be boring.”
Kenley says now his biggest worry is finding staff to work the big weekends.
“The Wharf Rat just announced that Matt Minglewood is going to be performing a free outdoor concert downtown,” said Kenley. “Do you know how many thousands of people are going to be here for that?”
He says he had 48 people on staff last August and added 29 extra for the week of Wharf Rat Rally; this year he’d like to have 90 people working.
Kenley says he will also have an outdoor concert on the Saturday of Lobster Bash but will only keep it going as long as there’s a crowd.
“Just because we have an exemption until 1 a.m. doesn’t mean we will go that late,” he said. “We will base it on the crowd.
“With the flexibility we are getting now we can give the public exactly what they want.”
Town councillor Jean Brittain feels there are many people in town who don’t want to listen to outdoor concerts until 1 a.m.
She and councillor Peter Turnbull voted against the draft by-law at first reading.
Brittain has been asking for a special statement in the by-law restricting outdoor concerts ideally, to 11 p.m. although she says she’d be okay with midnight.
“It’s like anything else, somewhere you have to draw the line,” she said. “The outdoor concerts have that intrusive noise. There are people that have to work early in the morning and this affects their sleep.”
Brittain believes the sound from outdoor concerts can be heard in every part of town.
She says her proposal has yet to receive support around the council table and she isn’t under any delusions that she can stop the new by-law.
“But I believe the expectation of many residents is that someone one will understand their plight and speak to it,” she said. “If the majority of people in town and the majority of councillors believe that 1 a.m. is appropriate, I can accept that, but it doesn’t deter me from speaking about something that needs to be said.
“If this goes through, there are going to be some unhappy people.”