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No vote on noise in Culpeper

The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night took its turn at wrestling with a question that has plagued governing bodies for centuries—how do you legislate away bad neighbors?

As so often happens, they didn’t have the answer.

At issue was amending the county’s current noise ordinance to limit objectionable noise to daylight hours, allow a citizen to file a noise complaint without calling the sheriff and stiffen the penalties for offenders to a maximum fine of $1,000 and a year of jail time.

During a public hearing, 11 speakers called the amendments petty and unenforceable but two told horror stories about their neighbors.

Cindy Thornhill and several of her Boston neighbors told of neighbors that ride four-wheelers without mufflers until 4 a.m. on weekends and then end their play by firing guns in the air.

“Our neighbors do not respect us,” Thornhill said. “This is more about a curfew than anything else.”

Another neighbor, Donald Deal, told of noise so loud that he could not hear the television.

“This is a racetrack,” he said. “These people trailer in four-wheelers on weekends.”

Another neighbor told of having to use his tractor to smooth gravel on the state road where the riders were making sharp turns.

Thornhill played a tape of the four-wheeler noise.

Closer to town, Wayne Orme complained of neighbors who have barking dogs that keep him awake nights.

“I’m of an age where I have to take medications and I need my sleep,” he said. “I’ve talked to these neighbors many times with no success.”

He said the last complaint ended with that neighbor returning the call and calling him dirty names.

“I don’t know what to do,” Orme said. “I’ve called the deputies, but they can’t do anything.”

Thornhill and some of her neighbors also said that they had called the sheriff’s office, but deputies were powerless to do any more than issue a warning.

Those who spoke against the revamped ordinance centered their opposition mostly on the fact that it might lead to people filing frivolous complaints against neighbors they dislike.

Nancy Richmond said that the 75-decibel limit now on the books would cause a day care playground to be in violation while exempting farmers.

“You’re placing cows above kids,” she said. “This is a ‘harass your neighbor’ ordinance.”

Kurt Christensen wondered if a magistrate would even issue a citizen a warrant based on an unsubstantiated complaint or whether the commonwealth’s attorney would prosecute such a case.

Maria Rodriguez said magistrates are already two hours behind issuing warrants for violent crimes and that the court system is already backed up.

After listening for 90 minutes, the supervisors found themselves back at square one.

“I think this is a disturbing-the-peace problem,” said Supervisor Bill Chase. “The sheriff is there to keep the peace.”

Supervisor Bradley Rosenberger said that, in his opinion, much of the problem stemmed from the influx of people from Northern Virginia.

“These people need to understand the effect their actions have on their neighbors,” he said. “They need to understand that it is not just about me. Something has to be done in these extreme situations.”

But the supervisors couldn’t decide what, so they did what most perplexed governing bodies do with controversial legislation—they unanimously sent the revised ordinance back to committee for more study.

It will be taken up in a rules committee meeting Tuesday.

Donnie Johnston:


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