Cannons and other noises

This past Thursday, I arrived late to what was supposed to be the final meeting of the group of citizens who were assembled to help draft Greensboro’s new noise ordinance.  (2/10/05 draft here).  After all I had going on that day, I was quite pleased with myself when I waltzed into the meeting at 4:35 thinking I was only five minutes late.  I found out pretty quickly that the meeting had started an hour before so I missed most of what I found out later to be a very contentious discussion.  Here’s the issue…

This process started back in July of last year and the new ordinance will have some real teeth to it.  It calls for very specific decibel (db) limits under various situations and provides that sound measurement devices be utilized to make enforcement of the ordinance objective on the part of the police department.  (The current set of noise ordinances are quite subjective). 

Much wrangling has taken place over the last several months in attempts to strike a balance between the sometimes divergent interests of neighborhoods and downtown promotional groups.  The downtown groups have advocated for louder noise levels at later hours than the neighborhoods might be willing to accept, so compromises were made.  Then came the exemption clauses. (highlights indicated points of centention)

Sec. 18-54     Exceptions from the Article.

In the interest of public safety and convenience the following activities are exempted from the application of this Article:

(a)     Emergency work made necessary to restore property to a safe condition; emergency work required to protect persons or property from danger or potential danger; or work by private or public utilities when restoring utility service.

(b)     Any street construction activity performed by, or on behalf of, a government agency on streets designated on the then current thoroughfare plan as adopted by the City; provided that all equipment is operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and is equipped with all legally required noise-reducing devices in proper operating condition. Blasting and pile driving on street projects are exempted under this exception only to the extent that they are carried on between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

(c)           Activities occurring on property owed, or used, by The State of North Carolina and its various agencies;

(d)     Lawn mowers, leaf blowers, aerators, and agricultural equipment during daylight hours (7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) when operated with all the manufacturers’ standard mufflers and noise reducing equipment in use and proper operating condition;

(e)      Non-amplified crowd noises resulting from entertainment activities organized and conducted by school, church, government, or organized sports organizations; this provision shall not exempt collegiate fraternities or sororities from compliance with the provisions of this Article.

(f)     Emergency pressure relief valves; the operation of horns, sirens, or other emergency warning devices being used in emergency circumstances according to law.

(g)     The bells, chimes, or calls to services of churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, or other religious structures.

(h)     Noises made by persons having obtained a permit to use the City streets or property or in conjunction with a City sponsored festival.

Here’s the thinking from the neighborhood’s point of view:

A lot of effort went in to making sure noise levels throughout the city limits were fair and equitable.  However, everyone agreed that Greensboro’s Central Business District (CBD) needed some additional leeway on noise levels and how late those higher noise levels should be allowed from time to time.  To accommodate this need, the ordinance provides a mechanism for obtaining a permit that would extend the hours and decibel levels for festivals, concerts and the like.  This permit would allow such events to operate until midnight at a 70db noise level (measured from the nearest non-CBD zoned residence).  Sounds fine, but…

In the latest draft of the ordinance, Section 18-54 throws a lot of that out the window.  An exemption from many provisions of the noise ordinance would be granted if any event is sponsored and run by any “school, church, government or organized sports organizations.”  In addition, any organization who has a separate permit that allows them to utilize “city streets or propertyor puts on an event “in conjunction with a City sponsored festival” can pretty much make all the noise they want as late as they want under such an exemption.

Thursday, the neighborhood representatives took great exception all of that exempting, so its back to the drawing board.  City attorney Terry Wood, who has been almost saint-like throughout this whole process, decided to report to the City Council that the measure would not come before them on March 15th as had been planned.

It was further decided that in order to finally get this thing resolved, a much smaller group of citizens should be assembled for the final hash-out.  Yours truly was one of the two neighborhood representatives chosen for this meeting.  The downtown interests will be forwarded by April Hutchinson with DGI and downtown event organizer Betty Cone.

As usual, I will keep you posted.

Oh, yeah… about Locke Clifford’s cannon for the Grasshoppers.  I was able to bring up the question of how such a noise maker might be regarded under the new ordinance to the City attorney right before adjournment.  Terry Wood said he had been apprised of the Grasshoppers idea of firing the thing during baseball games.  He said that, in his opinion, any such firing would come under the decibel limitations of the new ordinance.

But, as explained above, the Grasshoppers would be exempt from some provisions of the new ordinance because they are most assuredly an “organized sports organization.” 

I won’t be late for this meeting.

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