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Council loosens noose around Whiskey Bone’s

By Jeffrey Pieters

jpieters@postbulletin.com

Neighbors complaining of noise from Whiskey Bone’s Roadhouse had hoped the issue would be resolved — and to their satisfaction — on Monday.

Instead, they’re going back to Square 1.

The Rochester City Council voted to extend the northeast Rochester bar’s liquor license to the end of the year — a decision that rested in large part on the fact that, despite the many neighborhood complaints, police have never written a noise citation against the bar.

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At the meeting, neighbors were encouraged to phone their complaints to police. The city council will have officers instructed to respond to complaints either by writing a noise citation, or by writing an explanation for why they didn’t.

"This gives us something to base our decision on, should we elect to shut this place down," said council member Ed Hruska, who suggested the move.

"I wish we would have thought of this months ago," said council President Dennis Hanson. "In the future, if any of the neighbors call (police), there will be documentation."

The decision displeased neighbors, some of whom said they had been instructed previously to call city council members, and not police, in order to create conditions where the opposing sides could find a compromise.

Some on the city council seemed inclined to punish Whiskey Bone’s owner Todd Powers for what they described as his failure to bend to neighbors.

"My recommendation is to pull the license, until you (Powers) accommodate our ordinance," said council member Bob Nowicki, who represents the area. "You’re going to work with the neighbors for sure, and we’ll come up with a satisfactory solution."

Powers was represented by an attorney, Gary Van Cleve, of the Twin Cities firm Larkin Hoffman, who told the city council that the city’s noise ordinance is "unconstitutionally vague."

The ordinance, in Chapter 85 of the city’s code of ordinances, prohibits noise at levels that disturbs people on neighboring properties.

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"There’s no objective standard … that you would be able to uphold in a court of law," Van Cleve said.

Van Cleve’s firm hired a professional noise-monitoring firm to record sound outside Whiskey Bone’s on the nights of Sept. 5 and Sept. 6.

The results showed the bar to be at or below the state nighttime noise standard of 50 decibels, or an intensity of sound that one would commonly find inside a library.

Neighbors, however, rated those nights differently. One of them, Eric Weckwerth, described the problems that he, his wife and his two young children had sleeping both nights of the weekend. They can hear music from the bar over the sound of their television, he said.

"I lost over seven hours of sleep in one weekend," he said. "Now it’s affecting my well-being and my life."

Though Whiskey Bone’s license was extended to Dec. 31, the city council can revive the process to rescind that license sooner, if there are complaints.

"It could be two weeks; it could be never, if they become good neighbors," Hanson said.

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