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Noise Law Returns?

City Council to consider new noise ordinance eight months after the previous one was deemed unconstitutional.

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Since a judge struck down an attempt at a noise ordinance as unconstitutional in November, makers of “excessive” sound have been able to do so with near impunity. But those days seem to be drawing to a close.

A new edition of the noise-control ordinance is expected to be introduced at tonight’s City Council meeting. Like its predecessor, the ordinance bars city residents from creating sounds that can be measured at 65 decibels or more from inside another person’s residence between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The nighttime decibel cap -- 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. -- stands at 55 decibels. Repeat violators of the proposed ordinance could face a Class 2 misdemeanor.

“This is something the city needs,” the ordinance’s sponsor, City Councilman Charles Samuels, said at a committee meeting last week. Samuels has been meeting with a handful of public officials to craft a new ordinance since the last one was ruled unconstitutional by Manchester District Court Judge Robert Pustilnik last year.

Critics of the ordinance, including Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, had questioned the law’s constitutionality. Asked whether his office will be able to successfully prosecute violators of the new noise ordinance, Herring declines to comment, calling it a work in progress.

Where the two versions noticeably differ is in how and where the noise cap will be enforced. While the old version threw a blanket prohibition over the city, the new one will be enforced only in neighborhoods zoned for residential use and in multi-use or multi-family residences.

In addition, the “plainly audible” standard has been replaced by a continuum of guidelines for how “excessive” sound can be measured. In residential zones, police armed with decibel meters will be required to take measurements not from the source of the sound, but from the property of the complainant.

Residents living in mixed-use or multi-family homes also are prevented from creating noise that exceeds the cap. But the ordinance dictates that the offending sound is measured four feet from the wall, ceiling or floor nearest the source.

People who live in nonresidential zones won’t benefit from the ordinance. Fan resident Will Grader says his home, located in a section zoned for business, is “worthless” unless the city passes legislation to control the noise from nearby bars. Revisions of the proposed law already may be in the works.

Presiding over his monthly district meeting last week, Samuels told attendees that he’s taking a number of amendments into consideration, including one that would move the start of “nighttime hours” from 9 to 10.

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