Nothing can turn a neighborly situation more prickly than a barking dog, loud music, or revving engines. That's why a new noise ordinance was introduced to council members last week as several residents from a Fort Stockton neighborhood sat silently in support of the new sound laws.
Police Chief Ryan Skelton was a popular figure during the meeting, speaking on several agenda items, one of which will replace an old ordinance dealing with noise complaints and will give teeth to enforcing new rules.
Skelton had heard complaints from residents dealing with off-road all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) using a vacant lot joyriding near a neighborhood, in which the noisy toys would interfere with the well-being of nearby homeowners. Loud trucks had also been a complaint across town. So the chief searched for a remedy, puling rules from a noise ordinance in Fort Worth that seemed to fit what he wanted to enforce here.
For instance, different parts of town can have different enforcement measures dealing with the time of day noises of a certain decibel can be permitted, while some sounds will be outlawed at all times.
Per the ordinance, the new rules look to “add decibel levels; to add definitions related to noise; to set maximum levels based on zoning categories; to regulate amplifiers in the right of way; to restrict animal noise; to allow exemptions, providing that this ordinance shall be cumulative of all ordinances.”
The ordinance defines “unreasonable noise” as “any unreasonable loud, disturbing, and unnecessary noise which causes material distress, discomfort or injury to persons of ordinary sensibilities in the immediate vicinity thereof; or any noise of such character, intensity and continued duration, which substantially interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of private homes by persons of ordinary sensibilities.”
In other words, leave the jackhammer at home and refrain from pumping George Strait from your truck speakers where your neighbor's eyeglasses rattle off.
Most rules will refer to residential, not industrial, districts. Noises will be measured in decibels from the property line of the offended party for a duration of 30 seconds. Violations will be determined based on the highest reading in that timeframe.
For residential zoning districts, sounds are not to exceed 70 decibels in daytime hours defined as 7 a.m.-10 p.m. and 60 decibels from 10 p.m.-7 a.m. All non-residential and mixed-use zoning districts, excluding industrial zoning districts, have daytime decibel levels of 80 and nighttime maximums of 70.
In the Central Business District, an 80 decibel level will be enforced Sunday-Thursday from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. and 70 decibels during the night. From Friday-Saturday, those times will extend to 7 a.m.-2 a.m. for the 80 decibel daytime limit and 70 decibels from 2 a.m.-7 a.m.
The law also looks to restrict unreasonable sound coming from the use of a “bullhorn, loudspeaker, or other amplification” in the public right-of-way and on city property. This means roads, streets, and parks. Exemptions are for safety officials performing their duties, persons with an outdoor event permit, and persons with permission from pertinent city department directors.
Animals are not exempt. Per the ordinance, “it shall be unlawful to keep, or to permit the keeping of, any dog(s) or rooster(s) or any other bird or animal that creates a bark, cry, crow, or other sound on a frequent, repetitive or continuous basis for 10 minutes or longer.”
Noisy construction work will also be limited to within 300 feet of an occupied residence before 7 a.m. or after 8 p.m. Monday-Friday and before 9 a.m. and after 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
But the main tweak to the rules, as seen by the residents in attendance, was to limit noise from certain vehicles. The ordinance spells this out, as “operation of motor vehicles, including but not limited to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and motorcycles made for off-road use. The revving of any engine and noise of ATVs and off-road vehicles and motorcycle engines, the playing of any music with such volume or bass, or the operation of any vehicle so out of repair, so loaded or in such manner as to create loud or unnecessary grating, grinding, jarring, rattling, or squealing noise or vibrations.”
Exemptions exist for school and government functions, airports, railways and vehicular transportation.
Offenses are punishable by a fine not to exceed $500 and each day a violation continues can constitute a separate offense.