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Hearing scheduled for contentious noise ordinance

Buckingham County supervisors voted 4-3 in favor of scheduling a public hearing for Oct. 13 regarding a proposed revision to Buckingham County’s Noise Control Ordinance. The revised ordinance was the subject of debate between several board members, with some members of the public calling the new ordinance a violation of their constitutional rights.

The draft ordinance presented to the board at its Monday, Sept. 14, meeting states that no person shall permit, operate or cause any source of sound or sound generation to create a sound that is plainly audible in any other person’s residential dwelling or place of business with the doors and windows of that residential dwelling or place of business closed.

The draft restricts noise to 65 decibels measured at the emitter’s property line or at any point within a property affected by that noise. Additionally, music and other noises should not be plainly audible from a distance of 50 feet or more from a vehicle.

The subject of the decibel level outlined in the ordinance was a cause of concern to some members of the board, including District 7 Supervisor Danny Allen, who ultimately voted “no” to schedule the public hearing on the ordinance.

“Sixty-five decibels is pretty low,” Allen said at the meeting. “I’m talking more than 65 decibels right now.”

In order to enforce certain parts of the ordinance, noise decibel readers would need to be purchased for some law and animal control officers in the county.

Tuesday, Sept. 22, County Administrator and Noise Control Committee member Rebecca Carter said those readers typically cost around $1,100 to $1,300 per meter. She added law enforcement would need to purchase a calibration unit as well.

A first-time violation of the proposed ordinance could mean a civil penalty of $250. A second offense within six months of the first conviction would be considered a Class 2 misdemeanor. Penalties can be charged for every distinct alleged violation and would be deemed a separate and subsequent offense.

The proposed revised ordinance includes 24 exceptions, including some items such as emergency work, sounds generated from religious buildings, emergency response vehicles, public special events such as parades or school events, fire and burglar alarms, locomotives and official sporting events, but some exemptions to the ordinance became other sources of concern to the board and the public Monday night.

According to Carter, one of the main issues that prompted the ordinance revision was excessive dog barking. Animal shelters or kennels given a kennel permit that house five or more dogs and were in existence prior to March 17 are listed under the exceptions of the proposed new ordinance.

Under the revised ordinance, the lawful discharge of firearms is exempt only if it does not “exceed more than two hours every six hours.”

At the Sept. 14 meeting, District 4 Supervisor Thomas Jordan Miles III said many of his constituents were concerned with the language of the ordinance relating to firearm usage.

A letter submitted to the board by resident Susan Browning and read aloud during the public comments section of the meeting called the revised ordinance “absolutely unnecessary and unjustified.” Browning also referred to the firearm regulation as a violation of her constitutional and personal rights, and called the language of the exemption “vague.”

“What we thought about with the shooting was it prevents someone who doesn’t live in the county from coming down here on a weekend and wanting to shoot all day long and disturb their neighbors when they could be going to a range to shoot, so it’s more for peace and quiet for the people who live here in the county,” District 2 Supervisor and Noise Control Committee member Donnie Bryan said.

“The key words in the noise ordinance are at the beginning,” Bryan said, referring to a noise being considered a nuisance if audible inside a person’s home with doors and windows shut.

While some supervisors said they believed the ordinance should go back to committee, Noise Control Committee member Eddie Slagle said he hopes the board will pass the ordinance as-is come Oct. 13.

“There were some great people who worked on this for quite a few months and went through revisions to come up with a workable solution that we felt was fair to all the citizens of Buckingham County.”

Slagle said the county’s previous noise ordinance was in some ways unenforceable.

In reference to concerns about gunfire regulation, Slagle added residents who wish to shoot all day long will not have a problem as long as neighboring property owners are OK with the duration of the noise, but the ordinance does give the option for recourse should neighbors find the length of gunfire to be a disturbance.

“I do not believe it is the intention of the Board of Supervisors to infringe upon citizens’ Second Amendment rights,” Carter said Tuesday. “I believe this is perhaps construed through the part about the time frames for shooting ranges or target shooting. I am sure this will be a portion of the ordinance that will be discussed during and following the public hearing.

“The intent, based on some committee members’ comments, I believe is to protect neighbors from listening to constant excessive shooting for hours at a time. The board has the options of approving the ordinance, rejecting the ordinance or sending it back to the committee to address any concerns the board may have.”

According to Carter, lawful hunting is exempted from any of the provisions of the ordinance.

Citizen input on the ordinance will be heard at the Oct. 13 public hearing during the regularly scheduled Board of Supervisors meeting.