Residents take Merriweather Post Pavilion noise complaints to county officials

Carol Galbraith lives just over a mile north of the Merriweather Post Pavilion concert venue in Columbia.

Over the past 24 years, she’s heard music wafting from the amphitheater every once in while, yet she said noise levels have increasingly become unbearable. During the Sweetlife Festival last year, Galbraith said the music was oppressive.

“It was so loud and it went on unrelentingly for eight hours. I was literally shaking. It was so stressful,” she said.

Bass from concerts—33 shows a year and primarily on weekends—pound through her walls and disturb sleep.

“It’s horrible because it messes you up," she said. "We’re not supposed to live our lives around the schedules of this business.”

Galbraith told ABC2 that she’s contacted Merriweather, Howard County Police and even the health department, but nothing has been done.

Back in 2013, the Maryland General Assembly approved a measure allowing Merriweather to project sound at up to 95 decibels from 9 a.m to 11 p.m. within a quarter mile radius of the venue. Residents from the Howard County Citizens Association said that level is just too loud, citing evidence that noise levels between 85 and 106 decibels can cause physical and psychological effects—including hearing loss and sleep deprivation—over time.

“You can only stand so much before you go deaf,” said resident Maria Alvarez.

Locals recently joined together to form the Howard County Sound Sense group, taking their complaints to county officials. A meeting was held Tuesday night that brought together neighbors, Merriweather representatives and local officials. Russell Swatek said residents walked away from the meeting feeling disappointed.

“We were left with the feeling that nothing will be done,” he said. “The only option is to get new council members who really want to look out after their constituents, not just a money-raising venture that annoys the neighborhood."

Audrey Schaefer, communications director at Merriweather, told ABC2 that sound coming from an amphitheater is inevitable and a key function of their business. 

“We truly want to be a good neighbor, but these are the facts,” Schaefer said via email. “Anyone who moved into their home or apartment after 1967, knew they were moving near an amphitheater. We’ve been here for 49 years. Just like you wouldn’t move next to a train station and expect the trains not to run, people should expect sound to emit from the venue on show nights."

Schaefer went on to say that the venue helps drive the local economy, bringing in $12 million in hotel, food and retail spending, $1.5 million in tax income for the county and jobs for more than 1100 people. Any changes to Merriweather's sound allowance would "guarantee its failure," she said, forcing top artists to find another venue that'll better meet their needs. "Without the artists, there is no Merriweather."

Carol Galbraith said she just wants to get back to her normal life. “For crying out loud, stop hurting people,” she said of Merriweather. “It’s absurd.”

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the legislative body that passed the 2013 noise control ordinance.

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