It’s all about noise, noise, noise . . .

My City Talk column today is about the polarizing noise dispute between The Wormhole and some of the bar’s neighbors.

Humorously (to me at least), as I was writing this, someone literally just parked in front of my house with the bass throbbing from the car stereo. My windows were shaking and the sound was drowning out Tom Waits who is quietly spinning on the turntable. This is on a Sunday, about noon, so no one was being awakened by the noise, so no big deal in the life of a city. I went to the door to see what was up: there was a woman inside a beat-up old car texting away. After a few minutes, she moved on.

Literally, all I could hear was the bass, but she could surely hear a lot more. Throbbing car sound systems can certainly be disruptive to those nearby, but the sound often doesn’t seem nearly as loud if you’re inside the car. And those in the car can hear a lot more than just the bass notes.

Sound is a fickle thing, as Kevin Rose — an architect and recording engineer — notes in my column today.

But it’s hard to address any noise complaints because Savannah has specified decibel levels in our noise ordinance that are literally unenforceable. It’s impossible for many businesses to contain all noise on their own property, and the sound pressure levels defined as nuisances are, as I quote Kevin in the column, lower than the ambient noise of the city.

I talk a bit in the column about the polarized reaction to the dispute. Lots of commenters on social media are assuming that the neighbors are complaining unnecessarily, but they’re not. I’ve seen two rather strong comments that suggest a racial element to the controversy — but that could not be farther from the truth. This definitely falls into the category of white people’s problems. In fact, I suspect that many of the older black residents who might live near The Wormhole wouldn’t even bother to complain about a noisy bar down the street — not after years of poor support from police and the city on much more serious matters of street-level prostitution and drug dealing.

I’m also troubled by the persistent attacks, often by people with NO stake in the issues and NO knowledge of the particulars, on residents who have legitimate complaints about noise.

I live next door to a police precinct and half a block from a fire station, but I’ve never been bothered by sirens, which come and go pretty quickly. And, if I were bothered, I’d hardly have a right to complain. Public safety is a pretty important thing.

Some former neighbors who lived across the street still apologize about the noise and lateness of their parties, but those literally didn’t bother me at all. They were loud, for sure, but I’m a night owl and my largely uninsulated house mysteriously buffered the noise just fine.

My biggest noise complaints, by far, have to do with very early morning distractions that seem to penetrate every crevice of my wood frame 1870s home. I’m talking about the train horns that are many blocks away and the small armies of leaf blowers that occasionally descend as early as 7 a.m. on large properties nearby.

Are the train horns needed for safety? Yes, at least until we signalize all the crossings. Do they have to be so loud that they’re audible inside homes more than 9 blocks away? No. Do they have to be so early? No. Despite these legitimate questions, residents who are complaining about such noise nuisances get attacked all the time these days via social media and via the comments section of the Savannah Morning News.

Why do some people feel the need to launch such attacks? It’s a bit of a puzzle. There will be all sorts of conflicts like these in thriving urban areas that have embraced mixed-use zoning. There’s a constant give-and-take in public discourse. Thoughtlessly attacking residents who just want to improve their quality of life and protect the value of their property does nothing to further that discourse.

If the complaints are irrational, and I’ve heard plenty of irrational complaints over the years about living in the city, then we can point out the irrationality of the complaints through rational arguments.

And, in some cases at least, we need better public policy so that disputes can be addressed sensibly.