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County tackles noise ordinance

ASHEBORO — An update to the county noise ordinance has been postponed so that disputed details can be worked out.


The issue was brought before the Randolph County Board of Commissioners at their Dec. 4 meeting. The existing ordinance, adopted on Aug. 5, 1985, is considered by many to be outdated and in need of revision.


The section of the proposed ordinance titled Loud and Disturbing Noises says: “It is recognized that excessive and unnecessary noise endangers the physical and emotional health and welfare of the people, interferes with legitimate business and recreational activity, increases construction costs, depresses property values, offends the senses, creates public nuisances, and in other respects reduces the quality of life.


The section then defines loud and disturbing noise:

Unreasonably Loud — Noise which is substantially incompatible with the time and location where created to the extent that it creates an actual or imminent interference with peace or good order.

“Disturbing— Noise which is perceived by a person of ordinary sensibilities as interrupting the normal peace and calm of the area.


The proposed ordinance then lists what it calls loud and disturbing noise within certain situations, including, among others:

— Unnecessary blowing of horns.

— Sound amplification equipment.

— Large party nuisance.

— Harassing or intimidating noise.


Accompanying those listings is a list of 14 exceptions to the rules, such as noise from athletic events, farm equipment, lawn maintenance, emergency signals, lawfully permitted fireworks displays, and industrial and manufacturing operations, among others.


Allowing for the exceptions, the ordinance says, “It shall be prohibited for any person or entity to emit or cause to be emitted any noise across a property line or to a public street or into a dwelling unit in excess of 60 dba (decibels) between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.


Another section gives the penalties for infractions: “Any person or persons who violates any provision of this article shall be deemed to have committed an infraction. After issuing a warning to the violator, a deputy sheriff, or other law enforcement officer of the County may issue a citation subjecting the violator to a civil penalty to be paid within ten (10) days; the penalty for the first citation shall be $50. The second citation shall be $100, the third shall be $200. All subsequent violations within a 30-day period shall be $200. Non-payment within ten (10) days shall result in the issuance of a $50 delinquency charge. The County shall have the right to collect said payments and delinquency through Civil Action.


The Sheriff’s Office would have the power to enforce the ordinance. Anyone who believes an infraction has occurred would call the Sheriff’s Office to investigate.


During the public hearing on the noise ordinance, the commissioners heard from several residents in support of the update.


Susan McDowell said, "It should be immediately implemented for the wellbeing of all the residents of Randolph County" and “the county ordinance is out of date and reactive." McDowell told the commissioners that she lives in a large residential community and that parties of neighbors are “so loud that the sound carries over the 200 homes in the 54 acres very clearly, as if it's inside our homes."


Lori Shelton of the same neighborhood said she has called law enforcement seven times about noise. "This was 12 o'clock at night. All I wanted to do was go to bed so I could get up and go to church. I have to turn up my TV in my bedroom if I want to watch TV on a Saturday night. This is not acceptable in my home."


Larry Chilton, who lives on NC 22 north of Ramseur, said a neighbor built an open-sided barn that’s being used for parties. "Numerous, numerous times, they had excess of 200 vehicles there," he said. Chilton asked that the noise ordinance shouldn’t be limited to 11 p.m.-7 a.m.


A woman representing the Grantville community talked about similar parties in her neighborhood. She didn’t want to use her name for fear of reprisals, but said, "It doesn't even matter what time it ends. What matters is it's happening all the time. I'm glad to see something on paper, but I'd definitely like to see on the ordinance that this is any time of the day. We can't sit on our patio in the evening on a nice day."


Steve Maness was worried about imposing daytime limitations on noise since he puts on musical events about once a year on his farm. "The noise does carry, and you can't help that. If you have a band coming in, they're going to have speakers. It's going to get loud. I don't know about this noise ordinance if you're talking about any time during the day."


He continued, "I know what these folks are talking about. If you put an ordinance on for any time during the day, you're limiting events like mine, events for the community. Someone who doesn't like what we do on our farm could call on us."


Commissioner Hope Haywood said, "I do think that we must address that with our ordinance, these daytime noises that are so disrupting and so offensive to entire neighborhoods of people."


Haywood added, "We have other event centers that we don't get calls about. If these others can do it, it seems like they all can do it. We can put some restrictions in place that force people to be more considerate neighbors."


Commissioner David Allen said, "It's not the background levels so much. It's the spikes [in decibel levels]."


Commissioner Kenny Kidd questioned whether some of these properties are charging to rent out space and operating more like commercial venues with bands, food and hired security.


Ben Morgan, county attorney, cautioned the board about some of the details in the proposed ordinance. "You're going to have problems with applying a broad ordinance."


Further, he said, "This ordinance requires a lot of careful study and careful thought. A lot of different agencies, venues and businesses need to be looking at this very carefully. There are a lot of potential impacts on our county for the businesses and homeowners. As an attorney, I can see the potential problems."


Morgan then suggested another avenue for noise abatement — the court system.


"They have much greater remedies than the fines here. If you pursue those lawsuits, a court, judge or jury can order the offending parties to stop that activity. That's going to be very difficult for this county to do that, but courts can appoint fines and order that the activity be ceased."


Some of those in the audience said they couldn’t afford a lawyer for a lawsuit.


Nevertheless, Morgan advised the commissioners that there are “other remedies available besides through the county. This (ordinance) requires careful study and thought. There are a lot of potential impacts.”


With that, commission chair Darrell Frye asked that the ordinance be tweaked and brought back at a later date. The board unanimously approved.