Friday, September 28, 2007

When is a Noise MORE than a Noise?

The Fayette County Commission is considering changing the current noise ordinance. I suppose I should say Commissioners Herb Frady and Eric Maxwell are pushing to change the noise ordinance.

At a previous Commission meeting Maxwell, at the behest of Frady per Maxwell's comments, wanted the Commission to pursue looking over the current noise ordinance and making some changes to accommodate the individual who possibly caused the re-writing of the ordinance a few years back. Robert Horgan was clearly in the pair’s court at that initial meeting and Jack Smith went along. Peter Pfeifer was opposed. Chief Marshall Collins ended up with the task of looking over the ordinance and making recommendations.

During this Thursday’s meeting (9/27/07) Collins presented his suggestions. He cited a lot of sources and had clearly gone to great lengths to cover all bases. After it was all said and done, he suggested some minor changes including testing the decibel levels from the place homeowners gathered rather than at the edge of their property, changing the need for special exception permits to have to be voted on by the Board and adding an appeal process if permits were denied.

It was clear based on Maxwell’s comments that Collins didn’t get to where he and Frady wanted him to get (video to be posted on YouTube over the weekend). They want a free-for-all window a couple of hours a day on a couple of days a week where dirt bikers and motorcycle riders and any other noisemaker in the county can make higher than currently legal noises.

They haven’t said whether they’ll put a cap on the noise levels during those two-hour freebie windows, but one can only hope that there will be some decibel maximum set for that time frame if they move ahead. The time frame suggested by Maxwell was from 4 – 6 p.m.

When Maxwell spoke, he sounded very reasonable. Why wouldn’t you want that Dad with two young children to be able to ride their dirt bikes at least two days a week?

Hmmm…. Let me get a couple of notepads and see how fast the neighbors who’ll have to put up with the sound can fill ‘em up.

Something the Commissioners seem to forget in all their discussions is that the current noise ordinance doesn’t stop anyone from riding their dirt bikes or motorcycles. It just requires that they keep the noise at a reasonable level. Mufflers work fine. Riding bikes in the middle of 30 acres instead of on the edge of the property works fine. Having only one bike or maybe two instead of 5, 6 or 10 might help, too. I’ll reiterate… the ordinance doesn’t prevent anyone from riding their bikes or making other noises. It just requires them to be considerate of all those around them.

How do you discriminate against every other noisemaker during those two hours? Does that mean that during those two hours every kid with a boom box in the county can turn ‘em up to the max and blast us all away? Can I get my band together on the front porch and entertain my neighbors (whether they like my kind of music or not)? What if I’m a monster truck driver and I want to drive over old cars and crush them on my 40-acre property during those two hours? Can I take the muffler off my drag racers and do wheelies in the back yard for two hours?

Here’s another consideration: How do you pick the right time to allow excessive noise level? As said, Maxwell tossed out 4 – 6 p.m. That is homework time for a lot of kids. Some of the folks who spoke against changing the noise ordinance noted they had 60 plus decibel levels in their children’s bedrooms with windows closed due to the bikes. Don’t know about you, but I know I don’t concentrate very well when there’s a lot of noise.

My granddaughter takes a long nap around 3:30 p.m. every day. I can just imagine what would happen if the bikers (or any sustained loud noise) started blasting during her naptime. What about those who eat dinner at 5 p.m. or even 5:30 p.m.? What if you work the night shift and that’s your sleep time? What if you have an autistic child who doesn’t react well to noise? Should you have to move because someone moves into your quiet neighborhood and they want to blow their trumpet in the front yard for two hours? What if they have all their friends over next-door each week and hold a target practice? There is never going to be a good time to annoy all of your neighbors.

What appears to be happening is that the good of the majority is in the process of being pushed aside for the wants of one. There is one landowner who seems to be pushing the Commissioners to change the ordinance. At least he is the only one the Commissioners Maxwell and Horgan mentioned at the initial meeting and he’s the only one who was mentioned in the subsequent meetings. The family in question moved into a quiet neighborhood, built a dirt track, started riding all hours of the day and night causing the 15-plus neighboring households a lot of noisy grief. He has a son who’s aspiring to go pro with his motorcycle riding.

A few years back when the current noise ordinance was put in place, Commissioners visited some of the neighboring properties and heard the bikes. They spent a lot of time researching noise ordinances and other documentation. They put in a noise ordinance that has satisfied the vast majority of citizens in the county and complies with legal standards. According to Chief Marshall Collins, it has made the job of our judges that much easier because they have defined parameters.

How do you enforce a two-hour window? What happens if they ride an extra fifteen minutes? Do you take their two hours away from them as punishment? If you give someone two days a week to ride (or make as much noise as they’d like doing whatever they want), won’t they say that’s not fair, they should have three days, four days, seven? Why only two hours? That’s barely enough time to warm up the old bike. If I’m out of town on Tuesday can I have Thursday instead?

I’m going out to do my own research. So far I haven’t found a noise ordinance that allows a “make-as-much-noise-as-you’d-like” time exception. Generally most places are working hard to tighten their noise ordinance. They want a better quality of life and they’re not looking for ways to decrease quality of life. One of the speakers opposing weakening the noise ordinance said they thought Fayette County tried to be better than other places. Why in the world would anyone, especially some of our Commissioners, want to bring the county down? Why do they want to open a door that the majority is happy to keep closed?

Keep in mind readers, this isn’t about dirt bikes and motorcycles. This is about NOISE. When the current Board makes the changes, and chances are they will based on past performance, across the county noisemakers are going to be rejoicing and noise levels are going to go up for various periods of time. You won’t be able to do anything about intrusive noises during that period of time.

To answer my initial question, a noise is more than a noise when it infringes on your quality of life.


Todd said...

I will say as I have said to many people.

"The liberty of the individual must be limited thus far: he must not make himself a nuisance to other people." -John Stuart Mill.

michelangelo2005 said...

Dear Janet,
I would like to email you regarding your concern for noise, the quality of life here in Fayette County, and the dilemma I deal with every day. The Fayette County Commisioners will not return my several requests by email to address the situation. Maybe you now how the best way to approach them and get their attention.
Thank you,
Michael Meyer