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County needs new noise ordinance

King George Supervisors directed Matt Britton, county attorney, to develop a proposal for their consideration for a new county noise ordinance. 

That direction came following Britton’s report at the July 17 meeting on the existing noise ordinance, saying, “I bring it up because our ordinance is officially dead.”

Supervisors had unanimously approved a noise ordinance in December 2007, following over two months of discussions at meetings, which included questioning the need to regulate civility between neighbors in a small rural county. 

They concluded at the time it had become necessary. 

Britton reminded Supervisors that he had reported to them in 2009 that the Virginia Supreme Court had struck down an ordinance similar to King George’s, also based on the “reasonable person standard.” 

That meant that it was up to law enforcement to decide if there was a violation with investigation of a complaint. The decision was based on a determination whether the noise was unreasonably loud to a reasonable person. That type of determination was struck down as unconstitutionally vague. 

The board chose to take no action in 2009, because at that time portions of the existing ordinance were still being enforced. But that is no longer the case. 

Britton related that recently the General District Court judge had determined that he will not enforce any of the ordinance. So, attempts at enforcement have come to an end. 

Britton said word had gotten around in the community that the noise ordinance is not enforceable to the point that investigating complaints had become not only pointless, but some were impossible. Britton said some people would turn up the volume of their music, so interview of a complaint could not even be conducted.

And as far as civility between neighbors, sometimes it does not exist. 

Britton said it wasn’t typical, but there was one instance where there was a neighbor dispute and one of them just went away for a week, put speakers in the window and turned it up to ‘high’ and blared loud music 50 feet from their neighbor. Britton added, “There was nothing we could do.” 

He noted that noise complaints are extremely common, most having to do with loud music blasting, with many coming about noise from large assemblages from people even a half mile away. Large outdoor events or parties sometimes employ the use of multiple radios with loud speakers, boom boxes and/or concert speakers. 

TWO TYPES OF ORDINANCE OPTIONS

Britton said he was not aware of complaints having to do with farming activities or other noises often heard in a rural community, such things as use of chain saws. 

Supervisors agreed that law enforcement needed to be provided an effective tool for enforcement. 

Britton related that there were two types of ordinances left open to Supervisors for development and adoption. Supervisors decided against looking further into employing use of a decibel meter standard, as they had likewise rejected in the past. 

For effective enforcement of that type of standard, it requires purchase of a fairly expensive decibel meter that needs regular re-calibration, along with training it its use. 

Britton said he and the Sheriff are not in favor of that type for the reasons cited, adding it is difficult to prosecute effectively in court because of challenges on technicalities.

DISTANCE STANDARD

Supervisors agreed to have Britton pursue development of a proposed ordinance that employs a distance standard. That means if noise is audible at certain set distances from various types of places to be determined, it could be enforced. 

Different distances from different types of uses would be set and are yet to be determined. Examples might be 100 feet from a home, 300 feet from a business, 500 feet from a park.

Britton said an ordinance could be based on density use zoning, land use, and/or certain areas.

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 after 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. and until 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., on some days of the week.  

Exceptions might be included, which could exempt noise caused by agricultural, horticultural and forestal activities, including sawmill operations as well 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 public or permitted ceremonies, parades, outdoor sporting events, etc.

A proposal is expected to be brought forward at a future meeting of the Board of Supervisors. It will not be done overnight, with much discussion is expected to take place prior to any advertisement of a public hearing prior to any proposed adoption of a new ordinance. 

 

Phyllis Cook 

 

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