Chicago shouldn’t rush to become Din City

The hurried ordinance allowing outdoor amplified entertainment events without oversight is a bad idea.

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The former Morton Salt factory at 1357 N. Elston Ave. on Goose Island is seen in February.

The former Morton Salt factory at 1357 N. Elston Ave. on Goose Island is seen in February.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

At Monday’s meeting, the City Council paved the way for this to become a noisier city. The wiser move would be to change course.

The Council OKd an ordinance authorizing outdoor music events with amplified sound — but without the usual permits. Local communities, where all that amplified sound would resound and re-echo, would not get a chance to voice their views.

As Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said last week, families with young children or babies could be forced to endure noise from loudspeakers so deafening their windows could end up shaking multiple times a week.

That is not a good idea, it goes without saying. Why did this ordinance need to be rushed through?

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Rather than giving a blanket thumbs-up to these events, the Council should require them to get approval on a case-by-case basis. That would allow for some events to go ahead, while providing a chance to put the brakes on others that are too frequent or not appropriate.

It’s not unreasonable to ask event sponsors to obtain permits. Families who want to have a quiet picnic in the forest preserves have to get a permit. Big companies should have no trouble doing that as well.

The ordinance appears to be written for the Morton Salt Shed, which plans to have indoor music events on the site of Morton Salt’s former packaging and warehousing operation at 1357 N. Elston Ave., and now is scheduling outdoor events as well with — surprise — amplified sound.

Other possible venues for the amplified music events would be the new casino site in River West and the Lincoln Yards development. Additional sites around the city could qualify. But the communities around those sites will not get a chance to object to the decibel deluge if no change is made in the law.

Blasting out amplified sound along the river would hardly be in keeping with the 2019 River Corridor Design Guidelines, which call for enhancing the natural environment and providing public access and recreational opportunities, while balancing other needs. The idea is to create a restful and eco-friendly atmosphere along the Chicago River, something people came to appreciate as they looked for open space during the pandemic. The river also is a natural habitat for fauna that would be disturbed if amplified events are too frequent.

The ordinance allowing amplified music events “is really about turning the river into an Instagram space for rock concerts, which is against those river guidelines,” Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) told us. “And it disturbs the peace of many thousands of people who live along the river.”

Smith also said the ordinance was rushed through without careful deliberation.

Under the new ordinance, a site could host an amplified music event if it is large enough to accommodate at least 3,000 people, and if it is part of a planned unit development. The Salt Shed and casino would qualify. With minor changes in design, Lincoln Yards could, too.

Normally, the sponsor of any outdoor pageant of any size has to obtain a special patio license and a separate license for liquor and sound. Amplified sound is not generally allowed outdoors, which is why you don’t hear amplified sound at outdoor cafes.

But under the new rule, neither the community nor the local alderperson will have any control over large amplified music events on private property.

Smith on Monday introduced a separate ordinance that would cap the number of sites qualifying under the new ordinance for large events with amplified sound at one, and require others to get Council approval. The Council should use this proposal as a way to arrive at a policy that makes more sense.

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In our editorial on Tuesday, we said Chicago’s first casino is barreling toward likely City Council approval this week, even as a mess of questions about the venture swirl behind it. The ordinance on amplified sound events appears to be more of the same. There are risks in moving ahead so quickly.

Entertainment events are part of the city’s fabric and should not be prohibited indiscriminately. But the whole permitting process is in place to ensure patrons can enjoy such events without creating hardship for others.

Council members need to reflect in a quiet place — free of mind-numbing amplified sound — and figure out how to get this right.

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