White Oak Music Hall immediately christened itself “Houston’s best live music venue” when it opened in 2016, and, at face value, they made a convincing argument. Two state-of-the-art indoor stages are anchored by a massive, 3,500-capacity outdoor lawn with a dramatic view of the downtown skyline.
The neighbors of the Near Northside campus, on the other hand, had some objections, filing a nine-plaintiff lawsuit against White Oak in late 2016 railing against the outdoor stage's window-shaking volume that disrupted their once sleepy neighborhood. Numerous temporary injunctions have halted outdoor performances as the case has wound itself through court. And now, at long last, both parties reached a settlement announced Tuesday that establishes new sound monitoring protocols and dictates parameters for the frequency and duration of outdoor performances.
Houstonia dug into the details of the controversy last year, describing a clash between a set of venue operators claiming the best of intentions who nevertheless butted up against longtime residents of Glen Park, the neighborhood adjacent to WOMH. One parent detailed how the noise riled her child with a sensory-processing disorder and another mother had similar complaints regarding her autistic son. At the time, Cris Feldman, the plaintiff's attorney, made the call for a new City of Houston sound ordinance that would “protect children and working families from abuse.”
With the settlement, residents agreed to drop the suit in return for several concessions from White Oak Music Hall: a maximum of 40 outdoor shows per year, with no more than 20 falling on HISD school nights; a 9:30 p.m. bedtime on nights before State of Texas Assessment of Academic Resources, or STAAR, testing dates; and sound-monitoring equipment with the noise data available to residents. Any violations carry progressive monetary penalties, up to $15,000 each.
"A community came together to protect its legal rights and achieved a great victory in controlling sound in its neighborhood," Feldman said in a Tuesday press conference.
For its part, the WOMH operators said they were pleased with the outcome and will move on with the outdoor shows; David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, will muck it up onstage Saturday night.