Noise Ordinance to be Addressed by Board of Supervisors on May 12

Noise Ordinance to be Addressed by Board of Supervisors on May 12

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Public Hearing, Proposed Noise Ordinance

May 12, 2015, 4 p.m.

Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway

Board Auditorium

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed noise ordinance and public will get the opportunity to voice opinions before Board votes. Supervisors may be contacted individually through phone or email.

Neighbors of McLean High School and the school's athletic director have calibrated a solution. If music from loudspeakers gets amped up after or before a softball or football game, the athletic director knows precisely where the volume control should be set.

"We do not object to the sounds customarily produced by outdoor recreational activities: crowds cheering, bands playing and the like," said Henry Harris of the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association. "We are very concerned about amplified sound, particularly pre-recorded commercial music broadcast over loudspeakers, public address systems and portable devices."

The citizens association is concerned with a change in the county's noise ordinance.

County staff have recommended an increase in the limits on volume (5 decibels) of permitted noise, and the Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing on May 12 at 4 p.m.

West Lewinsville Heights and others in McLean's neighborhoods and around the county are concerned about the impact of allowing increased noise and changes in county law.

We have "been dealing with this issue for about 13 years," said Harris.

"There must be noise standards for amplified music set by the county. Neighborhood residents should not be expected to repeatedly negotiate compromises with those who generate amplified music."

Harris made a short documentary video he played last Wednesday night, demonstrating how difficult it could be to have a typical conversation in one's yard when music is playing at the neighboring school.

FIVE DECIBELS don’t add up to simple arithmetic. "They are actually defined on a logarithmic scale. This means that if a sound is 10 decibels more intense than another sound, it has 10 times the intensity," according to Harris.

Mark Zetts, on McLean Citizens Association Planning and Zoning Committee, played different sounds at different decibels to demonstrate this to the audience.

Supervisor John Foust organized the meeting last Wednesday, April 29, before the McLean Citizens Association to alert residents to the proposed changes, with more than 100 people attending.

"Why do we have to go higher?" many asked.

Many applauded.

"That's a fair question," said Leslie Johnson from the Department of Zoning. "We are a different community now than we were then," when ordinances were first written.

"The Board has the ability to go back to 55 [decibels] across the board," she said.

More applause.

The noise ordinance covers everything from lawn mowers, barking dogs, loudspeakers at athletic fields and industrial operations. For example, the noise of barking, howling, meowing, squawking or quacking animals that could be heard in a home with its windows closed is prohibited between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Other noise-makers that are specifically addressed, according to county documents:

  • Using a loudspeaker or amplifier outside Sunday through Thursday between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., and between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and the day before a federal holiday.
  • Many specifics of operating power lawn equipment, including lawn mowers; on all properties, the operation of leaf blowers is prohibited between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
  • Fixing cars or mechanical devices outside between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
  • Collecting trash or recycling within 100 yards of a residence between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • Loading or unloading trucks outside within 100 yards of a residence between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • Using dog parks Sunday through Thursday between dusk and 7 a.m. or on Fridays, Saturday or the day before a federal holiday between dusk and 8 a.m.

County officials said they tried to find a balance between daily life and quality of life, but some in attendance in McLean last week didn’t see the balance.

"John, this is half-baked. Why are we taking this out of the oven when it's not ready?" said one resident.

"That was my argument," Foust said. "I argued for 55, what was proposed was 60."

"Please make an effort to be there and please write to the Board of Supervisors," said Joyce Harris.

FAIRFAX AND OTHER Virginia governments have to rewrite their noise ordinance as a result of a Virginia Supreme court decision overturning the ordnance in Virginia Beach, according to county documents. If the new law is passed by the Board on May 12, it will replace the interim rules for nuisance noises passed in December 2013.