Enforceable noise ordinance approved

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A reworked county ordinance may add some teeth to how law enforcement can respond to noise complaints in Cumberland County.

Members of the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a new noise ordinance, which would have the potential to be enforced to a greater degree, according to County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Seay Giles.

Giles said the prior noise ordinance from the county was considered unenforceable, and presented a draft of the new ordinance for consideration.

Documentation from the new ordinance cited that it is intended to “promote an environment for its citizens free from noise that jeopardizes their health or welfare or degrades the quality of life.”

Prohibited sounds include music or other noise that is plainly audible at 50 feet or more from a property boundary, according to the draft ordinance.

Amendments made to the ordinance during the Tuesday meeting included changing the language about “county sponsored” events to “government sponsored” events to include events hosted by the Town of Farmville or surrounding counties. Another amendment was to rename “special use permit” to “conditional use permit.”

There are exemptions to the noise ordinance.

Sounds generated by land uses granted by the board of supervisors through conditional use permits and festival permits are exempt from the ordinance. A few speakers asked if this would apply to the Green Ridge landfill.

Speaker Ronald Tavernier expressed concern about trucks entering the county and traveling to and from the landfill, particularly related to trucks’ engine braking systems, such as jake brakes.

Tavernier said while some brakes of that nature are used when traveling uphill or in mountainous areas, he said they are unnecessary when traveling on flat land and can create excessive noise.

District Three Supervisor Kevin Ingle said the board would look into that issue.

Emergency services alarms and sirens are exempt, as well as bona fide agriculture and hunting activity such as animal sounds or shooting in the case of hunting. Or any construction activity that occurs between 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., or any landscaping noise, such as from lawnmowers and leaf blowers, that occur between 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The first violation of the ordinance would be considered a class 4 misdemeanor. A second violation within 12 months of the first violation would be a class 3 misdemeanor. A third violation within the 12-month period would be considered a class 2 misdemeanor, and subsequent violations within that 12-month period would be considered a class 1 misdemeanor. The Code of Virginia cites class 1 misdemeanors as punishable by confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.

The ordinance cites that individuals can request a variance or partial variance to the ordinance if the ordinance is creating serious hardship to the individual, and not necessarily benefiting the county.

Factors such as the time of day the noise occurs, the frequency of the noise, and potential to bring the noise into conformity would be examined by the board when determining the potential to grant a variance.

Six total people spoke during the public hearing for the ordinance.

Speakers Carol Miller and Tom Leatherwood conveyed noise complaints, including music played so loudly at adjacent properties, or from vehicles driving down the road, that they can shake their windows.

“I just hope we can do something about it,” Leatherwood said.

Nicole Patterson, a resident in the Anderson Highway area, complained about a neighbor who she said uses a generator at all times of the day or night. The noise, Patterson said, keeps her and the neighbors awake.

She said she has contacted representatives of the county and police, and spoke to the neighbor directly, and who have said they could do nothing about it.

“You have people who have to get up to go to work at 3 in the morning,” Patterson said. “You have children who have to go to school. You have elderly people who live next door to us.”

“It’s just a runaround,” Patterson said about the process. “I’m just tired of not being able to sleep … when the police come out there, something should be done.”

Ingle encouraged the board and sheriff’s office to look further into the situation at Anderson Highway.

District Five Supervisor Parker Wheeler asked Sheriff Darrell Hodges asked if there were any items in the ordinance that shouldn’t be in there.

Hodges said he and county administration reviewed the ordinance, and he said there doesn’t seem to be any items in the ordinance that can’t be enforced.

“I think it will be a huge benefit to our department,” Hodges said. Prior to the new ordinance, he said police could only ask residents to turn down music, as nothing could be enforced