Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
Supervisors hear about noise violations
The same night the King George Board of Supervisors considered a new noise ordinance, two residents of Fairview Beach encouraged the board to do something to curtail the party sounds coming from two bars on their riverfront community.
“Is there a problem? You better believe it,” said Andy Myruski.
Bars with outdoor venues are at either end of Fairview Beach, which fronts the Potomac River. “That means the people between them, which is all of us, get it in stereo,” Myruski said. “If you heard it at 10 o’clock, it sounds even worse at 1 in the morning. It’s horrendous.”
His neighbor, Mike Bennett, said the noise from bands is so loud, it shakes windows and wall hangings.
He agreed with Sheriff Steve Dempsey, who said he preferred a noise ordinance based on decibel readings. Deputies would carry a meter to measure the decibels to determine if bands, radios, DJs or other noises violated levels listed in the ordinance.
“The good thing about the meter, it’s just like a radar gun or a Breathalyzer,” Bennett said. “You’re either guilty or you’re not.”
But as County Attorney Matt Britton described in detail on Tuesday, crafting an ordinance isn’t that simple. Some localities, such as Stafford County, don’t allow activities after 10 p.m, such as unloading trucks. Britton wondered if that meant that people who unload groceries from their trucks after 10 are breaking the law, even if they don’t make the first noise.
And what about construction activity? Should that be prohibited at certain hours, Britton wondered. How about the noise from motorcycles, loud trucks and the discharge of firearms? And what about church bells? Britton said he hadn’t seen them listed in any ordinances for neighboring localities.
The county attorney, who has only a few board meetings left because he’s resigning the end of September, tossed out a number of possible exceptions.
“So what’s the easiest way to get a simple ordinance?” wondered Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr. He went on to describe a recent Saturday night party near his home, when he could hear “boom-boom-boom” late into the night. What could be done to stop that noise, Brooks wondered.
Supervisor Joe Grzeika asked the sheriff to come back with a report about the most-common noise violations instead of hearing about the “9,000 variations” that Britton wants to worry about. “What’s really the driving problem with this?” Grzeika said.
Supervisors asked Britton to draft an ordinance. He said he would let the supervisors make the political decision of how many decibels are allowed at certain times, adding that anything above 90 decibels is considered hard on the hearing.
“There will be a bunch of selections and exceptions,” Britton said, suggesting he’d again load up the supervisors with information. “You’ll know what the decibels are for a lawnmower, a hair dryer, conversational tone, a screaming tone, a party.”
King George needs a new ordinance because its old one, similar to a law in Virginia Beach, was based on noise levels that would be considered a nuisance to a reasonable person.
In 2009, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled the Virginia Beach ordinance was unconstitutionally vague because what one persons finds disturbing and unnecessary might not bother someone else. The court decision eventually drifted down to the local level. In June, a judge in King George’s General District Court threw out a noise ordinance case saying the existing policy isn’t valid.
When King George initially looked at a noise ordinance some years ago, it resisted the decibel system because the meters used to measure sounds were expensive and unreliable. That technology has changed and gotten more affordable, Dempsey said. He could get four meter readers and a calibration system for $1,158.
Dempsey told The Free Lance–Star that an ordinance is needed because common courtesy only goes so far these days. In the past, when deputies responded to complaints of extreme noise, all they had to do was ask people to turn down the noise and they complied.
But that’s not the case anymore, Dempsey said. Recently, a resident whose loud music brought about a neighbor’s complaint told a deputy who responded to the call to leave because the officer couldn’t do anything about it.
Most noise complaints are about music being played too loud on indoor systems or during outdoor gatherings, the sheriff said. By mid-July, there had been 97 noise complaints in 2012, compared to 107 in 2011 and 103 in King George the year before.