The Le Center City Council reviewed how to enforce the city’s noise ordinance on Tuesday night after frequent complaints of loud parties at the Le Sueur County Fairgrounds.
Le Center resident Leo Schmitz said loud parties held at the fairgrounds were keeping him awake approximately every other Saturday since two weeks before the Le Sueur County Fair. The music was so loud, said Schmitz, that his windows and decorations would shake while the festivities stretched past 1 a.m.
“I live one block from the fairgrounds,” said Schmitz. “My neighbor calls me and says ‘What’s going on? I was in the basement. My windows are rattling.’ I go upstairs and my decorations were rattling … It did go down toward the end, but it was loud, because I could hear it over my surround sound in my basement.”
On the night of Sept. 25, Schmitz and his neighbor called into the Le Center Police dispatch numerous times to report loud music coming from the swine barn at the northwest corner of the fairgrounds. According to the police report, an officer was dispatched to the party around 6 p.m. and requested that a friend of the party hosts turn the music down.
The hosts complied, but later in the evening, Schmitz said they turned the music up again, and he and a neighbor reported the noise. The officer arrived a second time and told the hosts the music would have to be turned down or the party would be shut down. Later in the evening, Schmitz filed a third noise complaint and at around 12:40 a.m. the officer arrived at the grounds and shut down the event.
Le Center police said they had received noise complaints all throughout the summer. Last weekend on Oct. 9, Schmitz called in another disturbance. The hosts turned down the music and kept the volume lower than when the first complaint was filed throughout the night, but the Le Center resident said music was still disturbing his residence
“It’s a tin can building; it vibrates,” Schmitz said. “I live one block away, and there’s assisted living another block away. What do they think? What about my neighbor who called four times in one night? I called three times.”
Jerry Cooney, a member of the Le Sueur County Fair Board, said the organization began renting out the fairgrounds for weddings, birthday parties and other events to support the fair association against the burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the summer, Cooney said he never realized people had issues with the noise.
“I’ve never worked with such nice people. They’re very respectful; they clean it up; they wash the building back out,” said Cooney. “It’s a religious thing — they start at 1 p.m. and they go to 1 a.m., I’ve had a couple of them. I didn’t realize the music was bothering other people.”
The Fair Board member offered to stop renting out the fairgrounds to parties, but Mayor Josh Frederickson said he didn’t want to cancel any future events. Rather, the mayor requested the neighbors and the fairgrounds come to a compromise.
Schmitz requested the city to curfew private parties at 11 p.m., but Fredrickson said that would be setting a different standard for the Le Sueur County Fairgrounds than other places in town. He pointed out that the Le Center Legion, VFW and Municipal Liquor Store frequently have events until 1 a.m. The mayor added that he didn’t want to discriminate between the Le Sueur County Fair, community events, birthday parties, weddings, religious ceremonies and other events.
“We don’t want to exclude anything, and we don’t want to be just inclusive for the fair,” said Fredrickson. “For example, the Fire Department is going to be hosting their 125th anniversary up there next June. They’re going to have a band up there. I guarantee you it’s going to be loud.”
Police Chief Robert Pfarr advised that when loud music is playing the swine barn could keep its doors closed and windows shut to prevent the sound from traveling.
“The real issue is when people open their windows or doors and it allows it to go outside of the building,” said Pfarr. “I know the one in earlier September, both ends were open on that building and the noise travels everywhere.”
One trouble Le Center Police had with enforcing the ordinance is that some people would turn their music down when law enforcement arrived, only to turn it back up after the officer left.
Le Center City Councilor Nathan Hintz suggested the police could deliver a warning when dispatched for a noise complaint and shut the music down once they received a second complaint. Fredrickson pushed back and said law enforcement needed a way to discern between reasonable and unreasonable complaints.
Jennifer Figueroa, a coordinator for several parties at the fairgrounds, said she was at the Oct. 9 party, and the hosts turned the music down when they were notified of a complaint the first time. However, the lower volume did not stop the calls to the police.
“The officer that was there, he dealt with the people in a professional way. We dealt with the music,” said Figueroa. “He came back a second time, a third time and he says, ‘The music is not loud. I know you guys turned it down. I can’t hear it, but the call from the same person keeps coming in and coming in.’”
Fredrickson believed peace could be reached at this time without escalating enforcement. He advised that officers could make their own judgements about the noise level. If police continue to receive complaints and feel the situation has not been rectified, they can shut down the event.
If the partygoers do not comply with law enforcement, police could issue a citation to the entity that rented the building out.