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King George aims to put a lid on noise

As the weather gets warmer—setting the scene for outdoor gatherings—King George County officials are making their own preparations.

They’re updating the county’s noise ordinance to make sure people enjoying live bands and loud radios don’t keep their neighbors up all hours of the night.

Supervisor Joe Grzeika said he understands the need for rules that force people to be civil, but it’s a shame things have come to that.

“It’s a sad state that we have to enact ordinances, and we don’t have that neighborly feeling where we can just call up and say, ‘I’m trying to sleep, can you turn that down?’” Grzeika said. “That’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are.”

King George has needed a new ordinance since last June, when a local judge deemed the current one too vague.

The same thing happened three years earlier to the ordinance on which King George’s was based.

That was in Virginia Beach. In 2009, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled the Virginia Beach ordinance was unconstitutionally vague, saying that what one person finds “loud, disturbing and unnecessary” might not bother someone else.

So, King George’s new county attorney, Eric Gore, worked with Sheriff Steve Dempsey to come up with an ordinance that would hold up in court. Gore presented his draft Tuesday night to the Board of Supervisors, which will hold a public hearing on the matter May 7.

As proposed, the new ordinance is based on decibel readings and times. Between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., the acceptable noise level is 75 decibels or under. That’s about the level of noise generated from a dishwasher or washing machine—for a person standing right next to it.

From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the level drops 10 points, to 65 decibels.

Deputies responding to noise complaints would measure the decibel readings at the property line.

The Sheriff’s Office already has purchased four meter readers and a calibration system and trained deputies on using them.

The ordinance also addresses barking dogs—or any pets that frequently or habitually “howl, bark, meow, squawk or make such other noise” heard across property boundaries or through apartment walls.

Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr. asked how this part of the ordinance would be interpreted. It states that the noisemaking has to take place for least 15 minutes during daytime hours or for 10 minutes at night.

Sisson feared that part of the ordinance veered toward the “reasonableness standard,” which was the basis of the old ordinance.

Gore said that no ordinance could factor in every possible scenario that might arise, but said a complaint of a barking dog would be looked into, both in terms of noise levels and frequency.

And, Grzeika added that a deputy probably isn’t going to charge a first-time offender. But if an officer has responded to the same complaint of a barking dog 15 times and files a charge, that information will be passed on in court.

A number of noisemakers are excluded from the ordinance, such as the sounds generated from public parades and sporting events, as well as the ringing of church bells.

Noises generated from the Navy base at Dahlgren, the King George Landfill and from electrical power generation and transmission facilities also are excluded.

A person found guilty of violating the noise ordinance would face a $250 fine for the first offense and a $500 fine for the second, if both are within one year. A third offense in the same time frame would be considered a Class 2 misdemeanor.

King George deputies responded to 123 noise complaints from January to August last year.

That’s compared to 107 for all of 2011 and 103 for 2010. Three-fourths of the complaints were about loud music, the sheriff said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425