PHOTO: Councilmember Fred Schultz is the author of the noise ordinance amendments.
BY DYSTANY MUSE
Takoma Park city council met for a work session to discuss amending the city’s noise ordinance during the weekly meeting, Monday, Dec. 7.
The city has rising concerns about noise and residents want the ordinance enforced.
Paul Chrostowski, a Takoma Park resident, told the council that the current ordinance is “unworkable.” He told the council that noise can cause health problems to himself and neighbors, including cardiovascular, psychiatric and even ear injuries.
The current city ordinance states that residents are in violation when their sound reaches 55 decibels or above.
“I have measured sound up to 90 decibels,” said Chrostowski.
However, the council is moving to raise the ordinance to state that residents are in violation when their sound reaches 60 decibels or above.
The Takoma Park City Council work session, Dec. 7, 2015.
“My question is why would you increase the decibel level at night to a level higher than the county’s,” said Anne Sergeant, a Takoma Park resident.
Councilman Schultz is in favor of raising the noise cap to 60 decibels because 55 decibels is the level of a normal conversation.
“We need to raise the level to where it has some meaning,” said Councilman Schulz, “55 is a useless number, it might as well be zero.”
Councilman Schultz says the police department has more important things to tend to and wants to make the ordinance reasonable to try to enforce so police aren’t called for minor things.
A significant proposed change to the ordinance is that police would have the power to issue citations and shut down events without having to take decibel readings.
Resident complaints typically include loud parties and music from neighbors, loud restaurants and loud customers leaving restaurants or bars, especially late at night.
However, the neighbors are also complaining about noise violations during the day.
“Leaf blowers are a big issue environmentally,” said Lorraine Pearsall, a Takoma Park resident.
Pearsall and Chrostowski brought to the council’s attention the city’s Department of Public Works noise violations.
Some of these include trash collection, construction, leaf blowers, lawn mowers and generators.
“This is a really important issue, we have heated debates,” said Pearsall, “Please work on this enough to make it workable.”
City attorney Linda Perlman said construction is permitted to reach 75 decibels from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the weekday.
The city’s Code Enforcement team responds to noise complaints during weekday business hours and Takoma Park Police handle all other times.
“I would like for us to enforce what we do have but apparently that’s not happening,” said Sergeant.
Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg said the police department “have other things to do besides be the primary (responder)” for noise violations. Chief Goldberg said that in his 31 years of service, he’s written about two to three noise citations because they are low priority.
The council discussed re-establishing the Noise Control Board. The original noise ordinance relied on the board’s citizen members to mediate neighborhood noise disputes.
Goldberg and Schultz both said some disputes may be personal conflicts between neighbors. These conflicts may result in neighbors reporting noise violations out of spite.
“This could all be the result of an unhappy neighbor,” said Schultz.
Reports are more legitimate when police receive complaints from multiple addresses, he said. This is why the Noise Control Board requires at least two complaints from different sources to open a mediation.
Takoma Park City Manager Suzanne Ludlow said the noise issues are a part of living in the community and needs to be taken very seriously. Ludlow suggests stronger fines for violators. City Attorney Perlman said noise violations are now a Class C violation carrying a fine of $200. That fine is doubled if it becomes a repeated violation.
The council indicated with a show of hands that it favors reinstating the Noise Control Board (NCB) and providing the board with the authority to fine neighbors violating the ordinance. Mayor Kate Stewart says the council will officially vote on the ordinance amendments in January.