City hall knows Fargo has a noise problem but blows $40,000 on study anyway

Downtown Fargo has a problem. It’s gotten so rowdy and noisy on the streets on many nights that city hall has been deluged with complaints. Last summer the controversy got to the point that city commissioners felt compelled to tackle the noise issue in a meeting covered by Forum News.

The controversy over late nights in downtown Fargo surfaced with a recent memo from city department leaders citing an increase in complaints over late-night noise after 10 p.m., and some of the litter and grease left from the food carts.

At the Fargo City Commission meeting Monday, July 25, the commissioners voted unanimously on three motions to deal with loud music by some sidewalk entertainers and food carts.

The motions call for an end to the permitting process for sidewalk entertainers, revoking their permits for amplified sound and to have city staff engage with them and the public on the proposed changes.

Police stepped up enforcement and city commissioners discussed options for reducing the late night ruckus. Yet in the end, Forum notes the ordinance remained the same.

Street musician Patrick Kelly said his performances were stopped “over 100 times” in 2022, he told The Forum in October, as police began cracking down on street performances after 10 p.m. in downtown Fargo.

In September, the city presented short-term ordinance changes, proposing a change to the city’s set sound decimal limits to keep the streets quieter. Current ordinance dictates that sound amplifiers, both portable and installed in vehicles, are prohibited between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. if they can be heard from more than 10 feet away.

After a long winter to think it over, downtown residents and visitors likely expected Fargo officials to have a plan all set to go to reduce noise levels as the summer tourist season kicked off. Instead, city commissioners effectively kicked the can down the street in lieu of ordering up a $40,000 study by a California consultant of what everyone already agrees is a problem.

The noise study seeks to deliver the following items:

-Credible data and detailed research on the noise levels when amplified noise is present vs when it’s not

-Locations where street performers would be permissible

“This noise study, we believe, will be really invaluable in trying to help us develop… comprehensive, credible data,” [City Administrator Michael] Redlinger said. “We’ve had a lot of antidotes, we’ve had a lot of information, but we haven’t necessarily had enough actionable information to think about modifications to city ordinances or to think about new regulations.”

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney questioned spending taxpayer funds on a consultant to review an already well-defined problem that the city needs to confront now.

The commission already knows that downtown is noisy and that noise has created problems for the city, Mahoney said.

“If our end point is we’re searching for an ordinance, would we consider just asking for the answer rather than spending ($40,000) dollars?”

The study will provide the city with the hard data they need, Redlinger noted, data that will allow them to determine the baseline noise level in downtown so that they can determine when it becomes excessive.

But for the long suffering residents and businesses in downtown Fargo, it’s just not that complicated. Everyone knows downtown Fargo has a noise problem and they know it when they hear it.