It’s a tale as old as time—er, at least since punk rock was invented: Punks versus Squares. Although, at the fourth annual Damaged City Fest this past Saturday, it boiled down to Punks versus NIMBYs.
During Saturday’s showcase at the Calvary Methodist Church in Columbia Heights, which started at 2 p.m., neighbors in a condo building adjacent to the church didn’t take kindly to the noise emanating from the church’s walls. In a classic “Dear PoPville” post, one of the residents of the condo building at 1465 Columbia Road NW writes to complain about the noise level of the festival and question the legality of it:
I live in a small condo building and we are neighbors with a church. Our buildings do not share a common wall but instead there is a small maybe 8-10 foot wide “alley” between our two buildings that is patio space and a majority of the windows to all of our individual units are along this wall facing the church.
The church is also rented as an event space, most recently to an all-day punk rock festival. Because of the close proximity of the two buildings, as well as the lack of insulation in the church’s walls and windows facing our unit (which have window AC units which let the sound go straight through) means that this concert was extremely disruptive to all of the residents of our building, with some taking decibel readings inside their units approaching 100 or higher for 10 straight hours, to the level that even the lyrics and comments made by performers on stage were intelligible through two sets of exterior walls into our individual units.
So my question is – is there a legal limit to the level of noise that a neighboring building can create in a residential neighborhood? The police were called, and while sympathetic to our situation, they said they couldn’t do anything about it unless it was between the hours of 10pm and 7am. Some building residents found online noise ordinances stating the noise cannot be over 60 decibels at a property line – but no real way to enforce this. The music and noise in question is in no way related to church worship – and because the structure was not built as a concert venue and is quite old it does not have the same levels of insulation you would find at a typical music venue.
But according to Damaged City co-founder and organizer Chris Moore, that’s not exactly how it all went down. About six minutes into the start of Saturday’s showcase, one of the neighbors burst into the show, ran up on stage, and tried to shut the show down. “He was basically hysterical,” Moore tells Arts Desk. “Charged the front door, refused to pay, ran up on stage and pushed the cymbal into the drummer, [and] started screaming about how this was over, we weren’t welcome in this neighborhood, this is not our community, [you’re] not welcome.”
Moore said he then asked to talk outside with the neighbor who, by that point, had already called the police. “I said ‘Can we come to some sort of compromise? There [are] people here from all over the world. This is something we have been planning for almost a year.'”
Though this is the fourth Damaged City Fest in as many years, it’s the first year it was held at Calvary Methodist Church, at 14th and Columbia streets NW. In previous years, daytime showcases were held at St. Stephen’s Church off 16th Street NW, which has a long and storied history of hosting punk shows. But Calvary Methodist is no stranger to punk and hardcore shows either: It’s hosted legendary punk bands—like Fugazi, Lungfish, and Q and Not U—in the ’90s and early ’00s.
Moore says the cops did come and “they were very chill, said we weren’t doing anything wrong, but they had to come.” According to District law, noise ordinances don’t go into effect until 10 p.m. and last until 7 a.m. Saturday’s Damaged City show ended before 10 p.m. However, the noise ordinance law does state that maximum noise level during the daytime can’t exceed 60 decibels. The condo neighbor who wrote to PoPville said that some had taken “decibel readings inside their units approaching 100 or higher,” but that’s only valid if the sound levels are “measured according to the test procedures prescribed by the administering agency established under § 2700.”
Anyway, the festival is over now, so the residents of 1465 Columbia Road NW will have to wait a full year to complain again about the noise of a punk festival. That is, if Damaged City has a showcase there again.
Photo by Farrah Skeiky