Citizens criticize ordinance proposals

MIDDLETOWN – Town Council fielded heavy criticism at a public hearing Tuesday evening for three separate proposed ordinances.

More than 50 residents crowded Town Hall as council accepted comments on ordinances on creating a historical district, tightening and enforcing noise regulations, and tightening and enforcing regulations on the grass in residential areas.

Before hearing comments, town attorney David Griffin said the historic ordinance was designed to fulfill three main goals: to create a mapped historical district in town to be used as a resource tool for citizens; to implement a historical district commission to work with the Planning Commission to further the goals of the district; and to slow down the destruction of historic properties in town.

He also said this is only a first reading of the draft and it can be edited to reflect citizen comment. Such is true for all three ordinances.

While most speakers said they agreed with the thinking behind the ordinance, many said its requirements were too onerous and it could allow non-Middletown residents to control aspects of town governance through the historical commission.

All told, 14 citizens spoke at the meeting, all of whom opposed the ordinance. Speaking at the tail end of the session, Ralph Bloom  asked for a show of hands for who disapproves of the ordinance.

Approximately 90 percent of people in the crowd raised their hands.

Speaking at the meeting, Sue Anne Teal said she supports maintaining Middletown’s historical nature, but she warned of collateral damage with the ordinance.

“I would like to remind you of the rule of unintended consequences,” she said. “Restrictions and regulations kill property’s market value.”

The rules of the draft prohibit homeowners from demolishing a structure in the historical district without consent of the historical district commission, or upon appeal, the council. Should council disapprove, the homeowners can appeal to Frederick County Circuit Court.

Likewise, it deems neglect to be a form of demolition and thus a violation of the ordinance, and would require homeowners to protect homes from neglect within the district.

Failure to comply after a notice from the commission would lead to a misdemeanor charge with a fine of $100 per day. Additionally, property owners who do not receive certification through the commission would also receive a misdemeanor charge and fine.

Along with the historical ordinance, council caught flak for its noise ordinance proposal. Should that pass, it would ban noise levels beyond 55 decibel between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. along with levels above 65 decibel throughout the rest of the day.

Although the ordinance is not yet a law, council has already purchased a $600 device to measure noise levels. Should a citizen file a complaint, the offensive noise would be measured from inside his or her residence.

Most citizens said they were angry the town had already purchased equipment before passing the ordinance, that the police should be handling more serious business than loud noise, and that the ordinance would be too difficult to fairly enforce.

One speaker, Marcus Truelove, said given his experience with the U.S. Army Band, the law would be hard to enforce. Truelove said sound levels are tricky to measure and different frequencies can be more or less intrusive than others, even at the same sound level.

Sherry Bohnenkamp, who owns the Liberty station on Reliance Road, said the law will unfairly affect her business, given its truck traffic. She said she could be cited even though the noise could just as easily be coming from the highway.

Council also fielded comments on an ordinance regulating disposal of waste matter and weed and tall grass removal.

Though most citizens focused on the other two ordinances, several expressed concern with the town issuing misdemeanors for noncompliance, which could harm residents’ job prospects for a trivial matter.

All three of the proposals were first read-throughs. Middletown conducts three public hearings for every new ordinance it passes, taking in citizen comment and possibly adjusting accordingly at each.

Council will meet at 7 p.m. Jan. 16 for a committee meeting.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com