Being close to the bustle is part of the allure of neighborhoods such as Shady Acres, which is next door to a series of dining options and entertainment venues.
There are nearly 10 bars within a few blocks of Ganesh Rha’s home on 21st Street, where he has lived for the last three years. He doesn’t need to drive to patronize those places, which offer vibrant nightlife and in some cases a good brunch on weekends.
Rha and a friend made the short walk to Cedar Creek Café and Bar, a spacious place with a shaded outdoor patio on the corner of 20th and Beall streets, last Saturday afternoon. He brought along his young child, who he pushed in a stroller.
“It’s pretty good,” Rha said of the area. “A lot of people like having bars around so they can go hang out with their friends.”
But not every homeowner in that part of the Heights is fond of the popular bars and restaurants in their neighborhood, especially if they have young children like Rha. Another nearby resident with a young child described his yearlong tenure in the community as a “nightmare.”
In emails to The Leader, a Shady Acres homeowner said loud music on weekend nights has been an ongoing disturbance to him and his family, who moved into a house just north of Cedar Creek in July 2018. He said he fortified his windows to reduce outside sound, made multiple pleas with nearby bar owners to turn down the volume and bass on their sound systems and sought the assistance of his Houston City Council representative and the Houston Police Department.
The man said they all sounded receptive to his concerns and vowed to help, but the problem has persisted.
“No one is willing to protect us,” he said on the night of Aug. 3, when thousands of people gathered in the area for White Linen Night in the Heights.
Do bars in residential areas owe it to their neighbors to keep quiet late at night, even if they have the requisite operating permits and are in compliance with noise laws? Is the onus on homeowners to ensure they purchase properties that suit their needs and lifestyles?
Should a city with no zoning do more to make sure residential and commercial neighbors get along in locales such as the Heights, which Houstonians consider a great place to work and play?
“The problem is (HPD) can come out and they can warn or fine the restaurant owner or bar owner. Then they leave their premises and it’s not all that unusual as time goes on where the sound gets revved up a little bit,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, the Houston City Council member for District C, which includes Shady Acres. “But the homeowner still has the right to live in reasonable conditions and enjoy his or her quality of life. That’s why we do have a noise ordinance, so the bar owners or the restaurant owners have to adhere to it.”
In residential areas, City of Houston ordinance requires sound to be no more than 65 decibels during the day and 58 decibels at night. With a noise permit, sound cannot exceed 75 decibels after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday or after 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Violating the ordinance is punishable by a fine up to $1,000.
Venues also are prohibited from making nearby citizens “aware of vibrations or resonance” even if their noise is within legal limits. A municipal judge recently upheld that provision in the city’s noise ordinance, which was challenged by employees of White Oak Music Hall.
The outdoor concert venue has feuded with neighbors since opening in 2016 at 2915 N. Main St. In 2018, White Oak Music Hall settled a lawsuit filed by nearby homeowners by agreeing to limit its number of concerts, limit their duration on school nights and install sound-monitoring equipment.
According to HPD, the Shady Acres homeowner has made three complaints this year about noise at either Cedar Creek or Shady Acres Saloon, which has weekend concerts on its back patio at 1115 W. 19th St. The most recent call, at about 5:30 p.m. Aug. 17, led to Cedar Creek receiving a citation for a nuisance, according to owner Gary Mosley.
Mosley questioned the validity of the citation, saying the DJ he employed on the outdoor patio that night kept the sound within legal limits. The Heights resident also pointed out that his bar has been in operation since 2006 – 12 years before the Shady Acres man bought a nearby home – and that Cedar Creek has by and large been a good neighbor.
Mosley’s Creek Group owns four other Houston-area bars, including Onion Creek on White Oak Drive and Cactus Cove in Timbergrove. He also owns the property where Shady Acres Saloon is located.
“We know respect, we know common sense, we know how to bring the community and people together,” Mosley said. “You can’t please everybody. I promise you there’s a lot of people that respect the Creek Group and what we do as a business.”
A week after receiving the nuisance citation, Cedar Creek had its DJ operating inside instead of on the patio. Shady Acres Saloon owner Mike Bell said his bar also has made adjustments after complaints by the nearby homeowner, removing bass speakers that were outside, lowering volumes and enlisting mostly country western bands instead of louder rock and roll acts.
Bell said at one point earlier this year his sound engineer stayed in communication with the homeowner on concerts nights, to make sure the volume and bass weren’t noticeable from his home more than a block away, but then the arrangement “got a little ridiculous.” Bell said he has not received any citations or warnings and that no other nearby homeowners have complained.
“He kept having cops come over, and the cops were like, ‘You’re not doing anything wrong,’” Bell said. “We were always under the decibel level.”
Bell and Mosley both said Bungalow Heights, which is situated between their two bars and has an outdoor patio with speakers, contributes to the noise on the block. Other nearby bars include The Boot, McIntyre’s, Big Star Bar and Wicklow Heights.
Another nearby homeowner who asked to remain anonymous said all the establishments and their customers contribute to noise in the area, which he doesn’t consider a problem. He said the proximity to popular bars attracted him to the neighborhood.
That homeowner, Rha and the two bar owners said those with an aversion to the community’s nightlife should consider that before choosing to move there. Mosley said it would be unreasonable for someone to move next to a high school, for example, and then complain about the daily commotion caused by marching band practice.
A year in bustling Shady Acres seems to have been enough for the man who has complained about the nearby bars. According to Harris County Appraisal District records and the Houston Association of Realtors website, the home he owns went up for sale less than two weeks ago.
“It’s just going to get worse over there. There’s so many places under construction right now,” Bell said. “I think anybody that’s going to move to I guess what they call a hip area is going to deal with that.”