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New noise ordinance being developed

King George Supervisors earlier this month reviewed elements that are expected to be considered for inclusion in a proposal for a new noise ordinance. The next report on a new noise ordinance is not expected to take place until early November, when Sheriff Steve Dempsey agreed to provide some additional information regarding decibel meter readings and complaint history, including such things as whether the bulk of complaints took place at night, and enforcement success rates from surrounding counties with such ordinances.

EXISTING NOISE ORDINANCE UNENFORCEABLE

A new noise ordinance is needed because Supervisors were informed over the summer by Matt Britton, county attorney, that the existing noise ordinance is completely unenforceable. The current ordinance is based on the “reasonable person standard.” 

That type of determination was struck down as unconstitutionally vague in 2009, but portions of the county ordinance were still enforceable. But that is no longer the case. A determination was made earlier this year by the General District Court judge that no portion of the county’s ordinance will be enforced. 

DECIBEL STANDARD

Britton provided additional information regarding development of a new ordinance earlier this month at a meeting on Sept. 4. Supervisors directed going forward with development of a proposal based on decibel meter readings. That type of ordinance had been rejected in the past by the county due to the cost of decibel meters, which were about $2,000 back in 2007, when the existing ordinance was approved. 

Sheriff Dempsey has since discovered that the decibel meters are now under $200 and are also more easily calibrated. The relative affordability of the meters is expected to allow the county to purchase several, should they go forward with that type of an ordinance. 

~ 2012 COMPLAINTS      Britton said there were 123 noise complaints documented so far this year, with 75 percent of the complaints about loud music, 20 percent involving barking dogs, fireworks and large gatherings, and 5 percent about loud parties, dirt bikes, shooting and sounds from the Naval base. 

The sounds of booming gun testing or other noises from the Naval base at Dahlgren, along with any other noise created by any governmental activity, will certainly be included as an exception in a new noise ordinance. 

~ DECIBEL READING EXAMPLES      Britton said it will be up to Supervisors to agree on setting what constitutes exceeding allowable decibel limits in a new ordinance. 

He provided some examples of decibel readings that common sounds generate. He said examples of “faint” noise reading of from 0 to 29 decibels are a pin dropping at 10 decibels, rustling leaves at 20 decibels, and whispering at 29 decibels. 

“Moderate” decibel levels from 30 to 59 decibels include a babbling brook and running computer at 30-40 decibels, rainfall, light traffic and a running refrigerator at 50 decibels, and a dishwasher, clothes dryer, normal conversation and air conditioner at 59 decibels.

“Loud” noise levels are those at 60 to 89 decibels, including noise from a shower, busy traffic, vacuum cleaner, piano practice at 60 to 70 decibels. A hair dryer, blender and garbage disposal are noted at 80 decibels. 

“Very loud” decibel levels are those from 90 to 109 decibels and include trucks and motorcycles and a train whistle at 500 feet at 90 decibels, hand drill, car horn and sporting event at 100 decibels, and a lawn mower, chain saw and model airplane at 109 decibels.

~ EFFECTIVE TIMES     The effective times for noise bans might also be included, which had been considered last time around and discarded prior to adoption of the current ordinance. The previous consideration was to limit loud noises after 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. and until 6:00 a.m. or 7:00 a.m., on some days of the week.  

~ EXCEPTIONS      Exceptions to the ordinance will be included, such as those which would exempt noise caused by agricultural, horticultural and forestal activities under the Virginia Right to Farm Act.

Other exceptions would include such things as alarms for the purpose of alerting people to an emergency, and sirens made by any emergency vehicle, along with the lawful discharge of firearms and noise caused by activities related to the repair and maintenance of public utility systems and roads or noise generated during county or permitted ceremonies, parades, sanctioned outdoor sporting events, etc.

A revised proposal is expected to be brought forward at a future meeting of the Board of Supervisors, with more discussion expected. A public hearing will be advertised and held prior to adoption of a new ordinance. 

 

 

 

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