The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 9, 2013

North Mankato music complaints may have been solved

By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press

NORTH MANKATO — Mayor Mark Dehen and other members of the North Mankato City Council have been hearing it loud and clear: Can't you get them to turn that racket down?

First it was Mankato's Riverfront Park amphitheater, the 2-year-old music venue that has proven very popular and also proven that river valleys make good amplifiers. Then it was a more isolated problem -- a Mexican restaurant and its Saturday night dance music -- that came before the council.

Dehen believes the dispute between the Las Fronteras Mexican Grill and Cantina on Belgrade Avenue and a few of its neighbors has been resolved. And he's hopeful that the solution might solve the bigger issue with sleep-disrupting music from summertime concerts at Riverfront Park.

"It's not the music that's the problem," Dehen said. "It's the bass."

No offense to bassists, but that was clearly the problem at Las Fronteras, according to Dehen, who worked with police to mediate a dispute between the owner and some nearby neighbors.

"I think people can tolerate the music a little more if the bass isn't assaulting them," he said at a recent meeting between Mankato and North Mankato leaders.

The Riverfront Park noise issue has come up several times since the park opened and concerts began in 2010, and at least one North Mankato resident is begging for a solution before warm weather returns.

"We can't wait until July," said Barb Church, who lives on Wheeler Avenue -- separated from the park by Highway 169 and the Minnesota River.

Church brought the issue to the council because of complaints from neighbors, and ever since she's become the sounding board when concerts are being held

"I'm sound asleep because I don't hear very well, but I get a call in the night: "I can't stand it anymore!'" Church said.

Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson conceded there's a problem and that the river valley causes the sound to hit some spots harder, even if they're farther away. Wind and humidity also cause some concerts to generate more complaints than others.

Dehen is hopeful that the Las Fronteras case could provide a solution. Neighbors were upset by the volume of the music, but responding police officers didn't hear excessive noise at the property line.

After a contentious debate between the restaurant owner and a handful of neighbors at an early January council meeting, police officers were simultaneously sent the following Saturday to the restaurant/bar and to homes of complainants. Inside the homes, the officers noticed the bass was rattling the windows even as the other elements of the music couldn't be heard.

"It turns the windows into a speaker and actually amplifies the music into the homes," Dehen said of the bass notes.

The officers in the homes called the officer at the restaurant, who had the bass gradually turned down until the window effect disappeared.

"For two weekends in a row, we've had no complaints," Dehen said.

Blaming the bass player made sense to North Mankato Councilman Bob Freyberg, because low-pitched sounds travel farther than higher-pitched sounds. That's why fog horns use lower tones and why some railroads are switching to higher-pitched horns to avoid needlessly annoying people far from the railroad crossing.

The question remains whether the bands at Riverfront Park, which include some national acts, will be as accommodating as Las Fronteras in easing up on the bass. Prominent bands might take exception to attempts by local police to adjust sound levels.

Anderson and Mankato Councilman Mark Frost said they'd schedule the issue for discussion at an upcoming council workshop.

Church said she's happy the park, made up of riverside land reclaimed from industrial use, has become a success so quickly.

"But it can't continue to assault people in their homes every weekend," she said.