Update on noise ordinance
The current noise ordinance in Caroline County that measures sound with a decibel meter may stay in place after all.
A Virginia Supreme Court recently struck down a Virginia Beach law, similar to a proposed ordinance in Caroline, that would allow law-enforcement officials to use their own judgment to decide whether to cite noise violators.
The justices in that case unanimously ruled that the law cannot stand because it lacks measurable standards and leaves enforcement to the whim of police officers.
That means Caroline supervisors will have to rethink a new ordinance or buy new equipment to keep the current one in place.
The proposed ordinance would base violations on “reasonableness” instead of a specific decibel level. Exemptions include noise from lawful hunting, public celebrations, alerts for an emergency and any noise within the boundaries of Fort A.P. Hill or the Peumansend Creek Regional Jail.
The penalties would range from a $100 fine for the first offense to a $1,000 fine and/or a year in jail for a fourth offense within a year.
Nearly 30 residents spoke out during the public hearing Tuesday night—most in opposition to the proposed ordinance.
Richard Bradley, who owns 13 acres in Chilesburg, said the ordinance has a lot of holes in it.
“You’re trying to create an ordinance that covers everybody,” he said. “But don’t put a straightjacket on everybody to protect a few.”
Sparta residents Douglas and Cynthia Banks said barking dogs in their neighborhood have caused them to lose years worth of sleep. They both supported the proposed ordinance.
A handful of people were concerned with the lack of an exception for hobby or target shooting.
“That’s what makes the rural life rural,” argued Peter Fisher of Port Royal.
Harry Snodgrass, who lives off of Jericho Road in Ruther Glen and owns a dog kennel, had a list with 170 signatures of others who were against the new ordinance.
“I don’t think you need a new amendment, I think you need to get Sheriff Lippa some new equipment and I’ll be the first to make a donation,” he said.
The current noise ordinance, established in 1987, calls for sheriff’s deputies to use handheld sound-level meters to determine whether noise is excessive.
Lippa said the meters are old. Last summer he called the devices ineffective because they pick up sounds other than the noise being targeted, so deputies don’t use them.
Supervisors did not vote on the ordinance and plan to have another public hearing once they come up with another solution.
Board Chairman and Madison District Supervisor Wayne Acors said they probably shouldn’t have made a change.
“There is an ordinance on the books today. We thought we were improving it,” he said. “But evidently we did not.”
Neighboring localities that also use the reasonable-standard method, include: The City of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and King George counties and the towns of Orange and Culpeper.
King George Administrator Travis Quesenberry has heard about the ruling in the Virginia Beach case, but said there are no plans to take any action at this time.
Stafford and Westmoreland counties and Colonial Beach measure noise by decibel level.
Here’s the official list of who spoke at the public hearing (PDF): www.fredericksburg.com/video/pdfs/2009/042009/noisePDF.pdf
And here are some other memorable quotes from last night:
- "In 20 years, we have not been able to open our windows because of how loud [our neighbors' dogs] are," said Cynthia Banks of Sparta.
- "I don’t think the fines are enough," said B.W. Pack of the Mattaponi district
- Ned Donalson questions the logic of leaving time references in the ordinance in case a person wants to sleep during the day.
- "You have to have some freedom," said Maynard Penney of Bowling Green.
- "We may be moving down a slippery slope. Who is going to call the Fort [A.P. Hill] and tell them not to shoot?" said Bob Crovatto of Sparta.
- Port Royal resident Frederick McCormick suggested the Board create two different ordinances, one for rural areas and one for populated areas.
- "It is your right to own a gun, but what good is it if you can’t use it?" asked Donald Farmer of the BG district
- "If you can’t prove my music is loud, I’m going to argue with you," said Joni Rollins-Davis, who lives in the BG district.
- Richard Bagley of Chilesburg said "If I have a barking dog, I would need to get rid of him on the first day or he’s gonna put me in the poorhouse!"
- "I enjoy my neighborhood. I enjoy my neighbors for the most part. I try to be a good neighbor and I would like for them to do the same," said George Spinner.
- Vicki Beach of King William is looking to buy a home in Caroline, but will not move here if this ordinance passes because she has dogs.
- Angela Sundarmarthy has 5 kids. Two of her friends come over with their 14 kids. "I’d be in jail for the rest of my life from the racket the kids make when they are having fun," she said.
- Russell Parker, who lives on Arcadia Road, said he has 13 Beagles for rabbit hunting, but they also alert him when there is danger in the area. He and his sister have had to deal with crime around their homes.