WILMINGTON — Have you heard? The City of Wilmington has finally approved an update to its noise ordinance after months of debate.
While not a new thing for the city, the latest version of the noise ordinance will hopefully bring some clarity to those who are tasked with enforcing the law as well as those expected to adhere to it, at least according to Deputy City Attorney Meredith Everhart.
“Existing City Code relating to noise regulation is not easily understandable for either law enforcement or the public, is outdated in many ways, and does not contain an appeals process for disputed violations,” City Manager Sterling Cheatham said in his introduction of the ordinance to City Council.
On Tuesday evening during the City Council meeting, the revised ordinance was passed updating, clarifying, and addressing the concerns of residents and city staff.
The new ordinance also puts into place an appeals process to those who are cited with noise violations, something that was previously not available.
For some, it feels like the decision to update the code was rushed or a new thing, but according to Everhart this has been talked about for two years, the city has finally gotten around to it this year.
One thing that has not changed is the maximum noise levels permitted in the different zoning districts around the city.
These levels are:
- (Downtown) 7:00 a.m. to Midnight 75 dB, Midnight to 7:00 a.m. 65 dB
- (Residential) 7:00 a.m. to Midnight 65 dB, Midnight to 7:00 a.m. 55 dB
- (Commercial/Industrial) 7:00 a.m. to Midnight 75 dB, Midnight to 7:00 a.m. 70 dB
The process of applying for a noise permit is one of the several important changes to the law, actually making it easier for residents and business owners to host activities. Previously anyone hosting an outdoor event was required to obtain a noise permit from the city, and do so in advance.
The new code states, “A noise permit shall be obtained in advance for any activity where the sound level to be produced exceeds or should be reasonably expected to exceed the sound level limits or time limits set out in this Article on any other property.”
This means anyone hosting an outdoor event that will likely not exceed the sound level maximums won’t have to worry about getting a permit. It also shortened the length of time required to apply for a permit, from 30 days in advance to just five.
According to Everhart, one permit can be used for multiple events so locations like bars downtown who host several live music events a week won’t have to fill out applications for each individual event.
The new code will also provide a 10-point guide to approving or denying a noise permit unlike previously, where there was no set criteria.
- The use and activities permitted by the zoning regulations in such areas;
- The intensity of sound levels regularly produced by activities and devices in such areas;
- The time at which the sound amplification will occur;
- The duration of the requested amplification;
- The proximity of the requested activity to commercial buildings and residential dwellings, and the density of the surrounding commercial and residential areas;
- The history of verified complaints generated by previous activities similar in nature and context;
- The history of noise complaints against the applicant from adjoining or neighboring properties;
- Whether the sounds produced by such devices and activities are plainly audible, recurrent, intermittent, impulsive, or constant;
- Failure to complete the application properly;
- The necessity of the requested amplification.
The City has also purchased three additional decibel meters, a problem area previously since only one unit was owned by the city. Now, these units will be more accessible to police expected to enforce the code.
But despite buying more of these expensive electronics, the new code (as well as the old ordinance) permits the police to issue citations without using a sound meter.
The updated ordinance, however, does offer police a 12-step guide to deciding on whether or not to issue a citation without a meter.
- The volume of the noise;
- The intensity of the noise;
- Whether the nature of the noise is usual or unusual;
- Whether the origin of the noise is natural or unnatural;
- The volume and intensity of the background noise, if any;
- The proximity of the noise to residential sleeping facilities;
- The nature and zoning of the area from which the noise emanates;
- The density of the inhabitation of the area from which the noise emanates;
- The time of the day or night the noise occurs;
- The duration of the noise;
- Statements of any complaining witnesses, including any pictures or audio/video documentation produced by complaining witnesses;
- Whether the noise is recurrent, impulsive, intermittent, or constant.
While there was little discussion surrounding the approval since City Council has heard from Everhart several times over the past few months on the issues, some members still had concerns.
For Councilman Kevin O’Grady, despite not voting against the ordinance, he did mention his concerns with not lowering the acceptable volumes in different districts.
Another issue that has come up in the past was that of garbage collection and permitted times. In residential areas, the new ordinance specifically outlines what times trash collection can begin — not so much in industrial or commercial areas.
For those living adjacent to these districts, the thought of someone emptying dumpsters in the early morning hours is a concern. But while not explicitly stated in the new ordinance, these actions would still be prohibited and if a resident complained, the city would be able to enforce its laws — it is just up to residents to complain, Everhart said.
The new laws will not go into effect until Oct. 1, 2019, in order to give police as well as city staff adequate time to prepare for the changes, Everhart said. The vote was passed unanimously as was the motion to wave the second reading of it.
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