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Music off the Square
MONROE - Is it music, or is it noise?

Following two, back-to-back committee meetings Tuesday, the city pulled the plug on the music broadcast from the Green County courthouse - at least temporarily, and it now awaits a public hearing and the Monroe Common Council's vote on some updated ordinances.

Four written complaints and a petition with 12 signatures to city hall, denouncing the music as a disturbance to the peacefulness of downtown Monroe, has set the city to rewriting its ordinances on noise and amplified sounds.

The complainants say the music is too loud, being audible more than 200 feet from the source, and is played too often, eight hours a day, seven days a week.

Wording in the current code limits the volume of background music, so that it "shall not be a nuisance, annoyance, or intrusion upon the public or public peace," and "under no circumstances" is it to be "audible at a distance of 50 feet from the speaker."

That distance from the courthouse speakers does not reach past the cars parked on the west side of Square's inner-most traffic lanes.

The signed petition notes in particular a city ordinance stating "upon compliant being made by three or more residents" who identify a disturbance, the permit for playing the music "shall be immediately suspended."

City Attorney Rex Ewald deemed that action to be unconstitutional, according to Alderman Chris Beer, who chaired both meetings, the Public Safety Committee and the Judiciary and Ordinance Review Committee, on Tuesday.

However, in agreement with Main Street Monroe Executive Director Amy Brandt to turn off the music until new guidelines can be established, the Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to shut the music down. Main Street Monroe holds the city permit to play the music.

"We really had no choice," Beer said Wednesday. "The music was violating our (current) city code."

The Judiciary and Ordinance Review Committee voted unanimously to send proposed ordinance changes to the Common Council for passage, Beer said.

But the city still has to determine whether the music playing from the courthouse is background music or amplified sound, she added.

Proposed changes to the code specify the allowable sound levels in decibels by zoning districts; set forth the means by which sound levels will be measured, and delete the hour limitations for amplified sound and background music. The new wording also includes term definitions, exclusion situations, non-conforming sources in zoning, and other changes.

At its next meeting May 7, the Common Council is expected to set a date for the public hearing on the ordinance changes.

While Main Street Monroe provides for the city music permit, County Clerk Mike Doyle oversees the music content and volume from the courthouse. The music plays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Doyle said music from the historic courthouse has been a part of downtown Monroe for about 15 years.

"Tourists like it, and store owners like it," he said.

The music source and types of music played have changed over the years. Doyle now uses a satellite radio tuned to a classical music channel.

How far out the music can be heard "depends on which way the wind is blowing," Doyle said.

"Most of the sound is blocked by the buildings" around the Square, he added.