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Jury Not Convinced Aspen Brewing Company Was Too Loud

Aspen Brewing Company was not too loud last summer. Yesterday six jurors found the micro brewery not guilty of breaking Aspen’s noise ordinance.  The decision comes amid ongoing friction between businesses on Restaurant Row and the owners of two penthouses right in the core. 

“How many of you go to bars in the downtown core?” 

That's one of the questions Debbie Quinn asked potential jurors. She's Assistant City Attorney for Aspen and had to convince the jury that Aspen Brewing Company was illegally loud on three occasions last summer. The first witness on the stand is central to the dispute. Natalia Shvachko and her husband own two penthouses right next to the Aspen Brewing Company.

Natalia Shvachko: “Because of the music they played, and they didn’t close doors, they didn’t try to mitigate noise. And I talk to somebody and explain I have little child, I go to bed at nine o'clock, she goes to bed at eight o'clock, and we cannot afford not to sleep days after days.”

Reporter: Shvachko and her husband called in around thirty noise complaints during the summer alone. Shvachko is a Ukrainian national and was Miss Ukraine in 1996; she’s been in court before, when she was sued over the estate of a previous husband. As for her life here in Aspen, Ms. Shvachko moved into her family’s downtown penthouses a little more than a year ago. During Wednesday’s trial, she described remodeling windows and doors to make them more noise proof. Yet every time a band played at the Brewing Company this summer, Shvachko said it was so loud in the penthouse it felt like the party was in her living room. A policeman later testified that when he arrived on the scene he could feel the base thumping in his body. The officer used a hand-held decibel meter to measure the noise level.  The brewery’s attorney, Lucas Van Arsdale, questioned how accurate that was, and asked an expert witness to the stand.

Lucas Van Arsdale: “Mr. Sidoti, what is your current profession?”

Salvatore Sidoti: “I am the audio engineer at Belly Up Aspen.”

Reporter: Salvatore Sidoti came to Aspen from The House of Blues in Cleveland—and at the Belly Up he measures sound for a living. Sound is calculated by decibels-- a normal conversation between two people measures about sixty decibels. Sidoti had a decibel meter with him in the courtroom.

Van Arsdale: “Now, if you’re on restaurant row with decibel meter, how would you isolate one source of noise, to determine what level of noise that source is emitting at your location?”

Sidoti: “Uh, you cannot isolate all the noise sources out. If I have this pointed at you, and you’re speaking, it’s not going to change if I have it pointed over here, it’s gonna be the same.”

In other words, it’s not clear whether the noise readings taken by police during the complaint were the exact sounds coming from the Aspen Brewing Company… or a combination of all the sound from restaurant row. In the end, the jury wasn’t convinced the micro brewery had broken the noise limit downtown.  They found the company not guilty on all counts. CJ Oliver is director of the city of Aspen’s Environmental Health department, and is responsible for enforcement of the noise ordinance.  He testified as to the accuracy of the city’s measurements.  After the verdict Oliver says his office respects the jury’s decision.

Oliver: “We’ll be taking general noise issues and the structure of our current noise ordinance in front of City Council in the upcoming months. The jury helped us to understand what the community feels like is reasonable.”

Reporter: And Oliver’s office might recommend City Council change the ordinance to allow more noise along Restaurant Row. Duncan Clauss owns the Aspen Brewing Company.

Duncan Clauss: “Very happy we were acquitted on all counts. Yeah, I guess I’m just relieved, and happy.

Next on the agenda, was getting a beer.

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