Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) An effort to ensure musicians can play on sidewalks at reasonable hours of the day received enough votes on Wednesday to win it a public hearing.

The ordinance, proposed by council member Daniel Carlino, would amend a chapter in city code to ensure that “sound devices,” such as radios, phonographs or musical instruments, are permitted “beside or along” any street, alley or public highway within the city.

Carlino brought the measure forward last week, but several council members suggested it wasn't fully baked at the time. To address that, Carlino has proposed striking “beside or along" from code so they would be permitted while "upon" would remain prohibited.

“I switched it to go along with the city attorney's suggestion of what I was hoping to accomplish, which is to make it easier for musicians to play music on the street,” Carlino said.

The proposal initially drew a slew of questions and potential scenarios, many of which haven't been precisely answered such as using amplifiers to broadcast political messages, using boom-boxes at high volumes, or a band playing loudly late into the night.

The intent of the initial ordinance remains unknown, but council members noted past episodes where music was considered noise and prompted complaints from area residents.

“We're simply guessing what previous councils had on their mind when they wrote some of this,” said council member Amber Sherrill.

City Attorney Ryan Sudbury said other chapters of city code could address music when it becomes noise. But he also said it can be difficult to apply when estimating decibel readings, or how and where they're taken.

Other chapters of code may also address disorderly conduct and other poor or nuisance behavior, he said.

“It's unclear what this was intended to do,” he said of the ordinance on sound devices. “But I don't think it was meant to include people performing on the sidewalk.”

Bryce Walker with Welcome Back Missoula supported the ordinance change.

“Missoula has a really great flavor, and street performers are a very important part of that flavor,” he said. “It provides a good economic support for Missoula. I agree we need to have laws in place to keep performing at a reasonable hour. But I don't think we should put a damper on our street performers.”

Carlino's measure will be scheduled for a public hearing in the coming week.

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