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Noise Ordinance Backlash Cranks Up

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The city's newly minted noise law is causing quite a racket.

A Facebook page, “Richmond's Noise Ordinance is Completely Insane,” has attracted nearly 1,400 members since it was launched a week ago.

The page is filled with commentary on the new noise legislation that City Council passed unanimously Feb. 22. The online consensus is that the ordinance is unfair and will be selectively enforced.

“No doubt this law will just be conveniently used to persecute groups of people they want to place pressure on for other reasons,” one of the members writes. “Having an ordinance like this puts every crackpot grouchy neighbor in control,” posts another. “We need a reasonable ordinance.”

Jay Lindsey, an urban planning student at Virginia Commonwealth University, started the Facebook page. “I read the ordinance and it was frustrating,” he says. “I thought that the voice of a significant part of the population was missing in the conversation.” Particularly onerous to Lindsey and many of the Facebookers is that, under the new law, sounds heard from as close as 50 feet away could be cause for a misdemeanor charge, a $500 fine and potential jail time.

“Where and when can we write music, practice, or even listen to music with friends?” he asks. “It's a large metropolitan area. I've been in other large cities and the concept of a radius of 50 feet of silence. … it's impossible.”

Second District Councilman Charles Samuels, who crafted and co-sponsored the ordinance, could not be reached for comment by press time. A statement on his Web site indicates that he is feeling the noise: “I have heard these concerns and have committed to reviewing this ordinance with the goal of creating a noise ordinance that will last another 20 years.” Samuels, an attorney, has announced the formation of a work group of lawyers and law-enforcement officials who plan to meet March 18 to review the ordinance.

Lindsey, who plays bass in a band called the Hotdamns, doesn't think that City Council was “trying to pull a fast one.”

Still, he doesn't believe it's good policy to pass bad laws with the goal of fixing them later.

“If nothing else,” he says, “I hope that the benefit of this [outcry] will be that the next time the people in charge enact this kind of law, that they remember that it is easier to do some outreach beforehand.”

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