Noise/nuisance ordinance considered at hearing
Residents spoke out on proposed noise and nuisance ordinances at a March 23 public hearing before the Morgan County Commission.
A Jefferson County ordinance to abate excessive residential noise that is deemed a public nuisance and a Berkeley County ordinance that designates habitually howling and barking dogs as a public nuisance were to be considered separately for adaptation to Morgan County at the public hearing. The County Commissioners suggested combining the two ordinances into one ordinance.
A Florida ordinance that County Commissioner Tommy Swaim found gives a 30-minute time limit for excessive noise or as determined by responding officer or that the noise is audible 200 feet from a property line. It was unclear whether any of these additional guidelines would be included in the Morgan County noise/nuisance ordinance.
While the Commissioners had gotten a decibel meter, there were still questions about what 65 decibels meant in sound as excessive noise.
Jim Hoyt pointed out that he was probably speaking at 65 decibels at the hearing. Morgan County Chief Deputy Vince Shambaugh recorded Hoyt and Commissioner Swaim's conversation as ranging from 55-70 decibels. Hoyt said the distance from the source of the sound would need to be considered. He was also concerned about the creation of loopholes in the ordinance by certain exemptions.
Joe Dent from the Woodmont Road area was disappointed that the proposed noise/nuisance ordinance didn't cover dust. He spoke of huge dust plumes from 103 ATVs going past his house at 55 miles per hour, which sits 75 feet from the road.
"This has to be a public health hazard," said Dent of the dust.
Janie Fox of Spruce Pine Hollow backed up Dent's claims about the dust. Her husband Richard Fox who came to the hearing has to breathe oxygen, she said.
Janie Fox was concerned that the ordinance considered something to be a public nuisance when it affected three or more households. In their subdivision where it is one home per five to eight acres, she didn't see how that would apply. She requested that the ordinance be reworded to say no fewer than two households.
Fumes, other nuisances
Richard Fox concurred about the noise and dust problems, but said that no one has mentioned the problem with the cloud of fumes that the ATVs create, he said. Fox said that he built a $10,000 porch on their home and can't use it because of the dust and the fumes.
Dawn White, a former attorney, said that anything noxious that disturbs the peace could be deemed a nuisance. Other issues she addressed were noxious odors, illegal discharge of weapons and ATVs riding up and down the roads for four hours every night.
"What happened to Sunday as a peaceful day," she asked.
White encouraged using the decibel meter and not leaving the determination of excessive noise up to a police officer. Like using radar guns to measure speed, "there has to be a standard," said White.
Charles Mills suggested removing the time limits of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the ordinance regarding excessive noise. Some people may have to work other shifts and need to sleep during the day, Mills said. He believed that the majority of people in Morgan County wanted it quiet to enjoy the sounds of nature.
Reuben Darby saw the noise ordinance as an honorable way of dealing with the noise issue without zoning. He was concerned that someone that worked odd shifts may need to use power tools to build something during off hours inside their home at night. Darby suggested a maximum limit of two hours. Some felt that could be considered authorized construction.
Marvin Miller felt that the ordinance as written permitted unlimited noise between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., which was a problem. He also wondered whether ATVs racing back and forth all day could be less than 65 decibels of sound.
Lois Walton, who had originally approached the County Commission in 2003 about a barking dog ordinance, wholeheartedly supported the noise/nuisance ordinance. Two dogs were poisoned in their subdivision and landowners and ATV riders have come to fistfights, she said
"We need something on the books," said Walton.
Dina Coe also supported the noise/nuisance ordinance. She mentioned barking dogs and long hours of target practice as concerns.
"One person can ruin the day for 40 other households," said Coe.
David R. White thought that plain common decency and courtesy has "gone the way of the dodo bird." He believed in the land of the free and the Second Amendment but was tired of listening to 50 caliber weapons banging away all day and ATVs and dirt bikes running ramshod through their neighborhood. There needed to be guidelines, he said.
"Anything repetitive will get to you eventually," said White.
We need the ordinance
Whether or not an officer of the law uses his discretion or the sound is measured with a decibel meter, "we need this ordinance," said County Commissioner Tommy Swaim.
The County Commissioners promised that if there were going to be considerable changes made to the proposed noise/nuisance ordinance that they would hold another public hearing before their vote. One resident asked for the chance to review the ordinance again if anything was changing on the target practice and gun situation.
The Morgan County Commission will hold a noise/nuisance ordinance workshop at 9:45 a.m. this Friday, March 30 during a special meeting. Other meeting agenda items include courthouse insurance at 9 a.m. and the Silling Associates contract approval at 9:30 a.m.