Board considers regulating noise

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County might put rules in place to help tackle noise complaints.

The Board of Supervisors continued its discussion Thursday on how to handle loud music, machinery and animals through a noise ordinance.

Some supervisors noted that the main complaint they hear concerns loud music played late at night. Other supervisors said that some noise from machinery, gunshots or animals is typical in a rural county. Another supervisor has warned that a resident could abuse the ordinance and use it to retaliate against a neighbor.

Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass provided some information to the board about noise ordinances in other localities. The board had asked Vass to find out how many noise complaints the county has received. Without a noise ordinance the county’s Emergency Communications Department could not easily retrieve that data, Vass said. Dispatchers usually log such complaints as other types of calls.

Vass contacted officials in Augusta, Frederick, Page and Warren to see how their noise ordinances worked and if the regulations helped control the problem.

“All seem to agree that having a noise ordinance was an effective methodology or tool to address noise complaints in their communities, that no doubt, having that available to a law enforcement officer helped address a noise complaint,” Vass said.

“It was something that didn’t seem to be used a whole lot but when it was necessary it was available to law enforcement,” Vass added.

Augusta had not issued a summons to appear in court on a complaint for years because of the ordinance in place, Vass said.

Chairman David Ferguson said he receives calls about noise but has little recourse to offer the resident. Ferguson said he could see where an ordinance wouldn’t be used a lot if neighbors got along.

“The problem I have had: there’s a noise, someone complains and our law enforcement people have nothing that backs them up, from an ordinance perspective, and they’re left with just asking the people to abate the noise,” Ferguson said. “But, other than that, it really can’t hold whoever’s causing the noise accountable.”

Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley recalled an incident in which one resident fell out of favor with a neighbor and then retaliated by making noise complaints.

Of the counties he contacted, three use decibel meters to gauge noise levels. Such devices cost money up front and in ongoing maintenance.

Vass warned that such an ordinance could lead to unintended consequences.

Supervisor Steve Baker, who is a farmer, voiced concern about the county imposing an ordinance that might target noise generated by agricultural equipment. Ferguson said he’s not received complaints about lawn mowers or other types of machinery.

“I don’t think we’re looking at firearms,” Ferguson said. “I mean, if you’re doing target practice after dark, heaven help you.”

Supervisor Cindy Bailey said she, too, receives noise complaints about loud music played late at night.

“It’s reasonable to say ’11 o’clock, turn the music down so your neighbors can sleep,” Bailey said. “I think that’s what this noise ordinance is really about.”

In some cases, ordinances can include exemptions to the rule such as noise from barking hunting dogs, Vass explained. County Administrator Mary Beth Price noted that state code exempts noise generated by wineries and craft breweries from ordinances.

Campbell County recently instituted a noise ordinance, Vass said. Initially, the public circulated incorrect information about the county’s proposed regulations. Vass advised that if the board moves forward to implement its own ordinance, county staff should put out information about the proposed rules.

Supervisor Marsha Shruntz warned that the board could open a can of worms by implementing a broad ordinance. Helsley concurred.

Ferguson said that governing bodies don’t often want to create ordinances that keep people from enjoying their lifestyles. Ferguson asked how he, as a board member, responds to noise complaints. Helsley said the board should seek input from the Sheriff’s Office as to how the agency addresses such situations.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com