The Noise Must Stop

White Oak

“The noise must stop”, says Cris Feldman. “Hundreds of families, some with challenged children, have had their lives turned upside down by the constant amplified noise and thumping bass at this outdoor concert hall,” says Feldman. “The City of Houston should have never allowed this to happen. We will fight to stop this public nuisance in the courtroom.”

Originally Published in The Houston Chronicle

The White Oak Music Hall was forced to pull the plug on outdoor amplified music – at least temporarily – after a Harris County judge ruled Friday that noise from concerts would cause “imminent” harm to the neighbors.

District Judge Michael Gomez issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits White Oak from playing amplified music on its outdoor stage for about two weeks. The order was sought by 10 neighbors who sued White Oak Music Hall and developers WOIH Partners, claiming that the music complex at 2915 N. Main has created a nuisance and interfered with their property rights.

The residents, who are seeking class action status, are ultimately seeking a permanent order to stop the venue from playing amplified music on an outdoor stage.

The court found that the residents would be “irreparably injured” if the temporary restraining order was not issued because it would cause “unreasonable discomfort and disturbance” from the “loud and disruptive noise” coming from the events at the music hall. The restraining order allows the music hall to host a previously scheduled event on Saturday, which is the only event scheduled before the order expires Dec. 30.

The music hall objected to the restraining order, saying that news would spread in the entertainment community and damage the hall’s ability to line up new acts. The owners said in a statement that they operate within the confines of Houston’s sound ordinance and do not believe the concerts produce unreasonable noise.

White Oak Music Hall, a complex that includes Raven Tower, a bar and live music venue, an indoor hall and a large outdoor stage, was developed with economic development funds provided by the city. Since it opened earlier this year, it has sparked neighborhood complaints of window-rattling noise from outdoor shows. Residents also argue that the developers have flouted city rules and cause parking and traffic congestion in the area dominated by single-family homes. The Houston Police Department has issued several citations to the venue for violating the sound ordinance.

The two-hour hearing was conducted in front of Gomez’s bench, which made it difficult to hear at times for the neighbors gathered in the courtroom. At one point Gomez took a five minute break and asked the parties to try to work out a solution. They came back to say they couldn’t reach a deal.

In granting the temporary restraining order, Gomez told Marrick Armstrong, the Pearland lawyer representing White Oak Music Hall, that the music complex could have resolved the problem before it got to court but instead continued to create noise problems for the neighborhood that are affecting property values.

“You seem one step behind on what is happening here,” Gomez said.

Neighbors praised the ruling. “I feel like this is a really great victory,” said Theresa Cavin, a plaintiff who lives about a block away from the music hall. Cavin has a nine-year-old son who has autism. During the outdoor shows, she said, he goes inside a closet and wraps towels around his head to handle the noise pulsing from the venue several times a week.

In the hearing, Armstrong disagreed that the music is loud. He also argued that some of the performances are not organized concerts, such as a Thursday night show with four guitar players. “It wasn’t a show, show,” said Armstrong, drawing laughs from people in the courtroom.

Cris Feldman, the lawyer representing the neighbors, played an excerpt of the four-member musical group recorded from the bedroom of one of his clients.

“That is not somebody’s bedroom,” Armstrong responded. Feldman shot back: “You don’t know.”

The city of Houston helped to finance the venue by agreeing to reimburse the developers up to $1.1 million for public improvements to sidewalks, landscaping and street lighting and for an upgrade to the public sanitary-sewer line. In exchange for the funds, the developers agreed to hold at least one fair for the community, offer at least four rehearsal times for John Marshall Middle school and Northside High School and allow roughly 500 parking spots to be used by the public on days the hall is not used.

Under the terms of the agreement between the city and the music hall, the venue can be used only Thursday through Saturday, among other restrictions.

Neighbors contend that the city has not aggressively enforced the noise ordinance because of its investment in the project. City officials did not respond to a request for comment.

In court documents, lawyers for the developers argued, in part, that the residents are asking the court to “usurp” the authority of the city of Houston for granting a permit to build an outdoor stage. They invoked a 2014 decision in Harris County against the residents who filed suit against the Ashby high-rise, the tower planned in a neighborhood near Rice University. The judge in that case said that it would not stop the 21-story tower from being built in the residential neighborhood. The White Oak developers say the same arguments apply in this case.

A temporary injunction hearing is set for Jan. 12.