Friday, October 7, 2011

The sounds of silence

Keeping the lid on

Goochland supervisors tiptoed through the minefield of local issues at their October 4 meeting trying to avoid yet another controversy before next month’s elections. Highlights on the agenda included a public hearing on the latest iteration of a county noise ordinance and presentation of a strategic plan for economic development.

The proposed noise ordinance was long in the making. Some citizens have been plagued by neighbors who permit chronic unrelieved dog barking or play deafening music at all hours with no regard for the rest of the world.

While these long suffering Goochlanders deserve a mechanism to address their problems, a one size fits all ordinance is not the answer.
The previous ordinance, which carried criminal penalties, was voided when similar ordinances were declared unconstitutional because of vague enforcement standards.

The latest version crafted by Goochland County Attorney Norman Sales carried civil penalties. An aggrieved party would go to a local magistrate and swear out a complaint. Offensive noise would be defined by a plainly audible standard. Fines began at $250 for the first offense escalating to $500 for repeat offenses.

The proposed ordinance addressed noise issues between the hours of 11 p.m. and seven a.m. permitting garbage trucks and construction sounds to begin an hour earlier.

Goochland’s fine and sensible hunters patiently explained how the proposed ordinance would be the “first nail in the coffin” of outlawing hunting with dogs in the county. They like to hear their dogs singing. Sounds like those are a part of the rural character everyone claims they want to preserve.

Other speakers characterized the notion that anyone could swear out a warrant could be easily abused by a neighbor with a grudge. It could also be used against the music played by Centerville areas where sound carries quite a distance. One speaker even suggested that warrants could be sworn out against snoring spouses.

The focus of the proposed ordinance was nighttime noise, but many loud tasks are performed at night. These would include unloading at grocery stores, music at gas stations and so forth. Noise associated with agriculture was exempted.

One gentleman whose life has been made miserable by the loud and incessant barking of a neighbor’s dog contended that the issue is not about dogs, but about people being responsible.

Howard Mayo pointed out that roosters make a lot noise and cannot be kept quiet until 7 a.m.

Michael McDermott contended that until the county is ready to use a noise standard based on decibels as measured by a calibrated device similar to a speed gun and distance from the source, it should leave the issue alone.
He said that the county receives about two noise complaints per week from the county at large, and regular complaints from the person who lives behind the Paws Inn in Centerville.

McDermott contended that repeated attempts at crafting a noise ordinance seem directed at the Paws Inn in Centerville. Indeed, the resident of a rental house behind Paws Inn seems to complain about noise at regular intervals.

Although District 4 supervisor Rudy Butler seems to have a vendetta against Paws Inn, he said little.

The use of decibel meters was discussed about a year ago at which time the supervisors decided the cost of the equipment was too high.

Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew said that, in general, noise is not a problem in Goochland, but there are isolated problems. He contended that a shotgun approach to the issue would cause as many problems as it would solve. He urged the board to be very careful in its approach to noise abatement laws rather than cause heartache to innocent people.

The board approved 4-0 (James Eads, District 5 did not attend the evening portion of the meeting) a motion by Ned Creasey District 3 and seconded by Butler to return the issue to Sales for further study. Look for this to resurface next year if Butler is reelected.

Board Chair William Quarles Jr. District 2 said that there must be some mechanism to address the noise problem for people with legitimate problems.
The timing of this public hearing is quite curious. Two other matters on the agenda, the county’s water supply plan, which needs to be approved by the beginning of November and has been on the back burner for years, and the long anticipated economic development strategic plan are far more urgent.

Seems like they were trying to sneak the noise ordinance through when no one was paying attention. Happily, Goochland citizens are growing more vigilant by the day.

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