Is Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model Built for Noise?

By. Neil Williamson

A revised noise ordinance was considered in yesterday’s (7/1) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting.  Brandon Shulleeta has the story in today’s Daily Progress.  The reason for the change was an April decision by the Virginia Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality (and objectiveness) of what a “reasonable person” would find disruptive.  Click here for the full text of the decision (pdf).

According to The Daily Progress story:

County attorney Larry Davis said that many localities across the state also are trying to create fair noise ordinances, but are struggling as well.
Noisiness is measured by the 100-feet criteria in many localities, according to county staff. But Supervisor Sally H. Thomas raised a scenario in which children playing loudly could violate the proposed ordinance, despite the sound being far from a nuisance to her and many other residents.
“Grouchy old people” might try to use the proposed distance criteria to prevent children from playing loudly, Thomas said with a laugh. The supervisors agreed it was a bad idea.  Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker added that a resident shouldn’t be prohibited from having a celebration at night because a daughter is getting married, for example, just because neighbors can hear sounds coming from the house

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates this discussion of noise but would also ask the Supervisors to consider if, through their current planning philosophy haven’t set up a “perfect storm” for fermenting neighbor noise complaints?

In yesterday’s discussion, staff raised a number of concerns regarding the use of sound meters by the police to enforce the ordinance.  Legal staff prepared the draft ordinance using the term audible rather tan a specific decibel level.  The suggestion was made you could increase the distance from the property line the noise was audible thus allowing louder noise. 

But what of the person strumming an accoustic guitar on their front porch which has a zero line set back?

What of the townhouse living New York Yankees fan who listens to the game in his backyard while his Boston Red Sox loving neighbor is tending his petunias a few feet away?

The “New Urbanist” design increases these, and other, potential conflicts as more people are placed closer in an effort to provide more economical delivery of government services and reserve rural open space.

In the end, Albemarle County will need to resolve the noise ordinance’s language to provide objectivity.  How they plan to address the new urbanist reality they are building has yet to be seen.

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