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Hefty New Fines Proposed for Noise Ordinance

By ARLnow.com

Friday - 10/19/2012, 2:40pm  ET

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board is expected to vote to advertise a proposed set of changes to the county’s 37-year-old noise control ordinance.

Among the proposed changes, county staff is recommending an increase in the fine for a noise violation from $25 to a maximum of $2,500. Jail time would also be possible under the revised ordinance.

The county started the process of revising the ordinance in 2009, which the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a provision in Virginia Beach’s noise control ordinance — a “reasonable person” standard for judging noise violations — was “unconstitutionally void due to its vagueness.”

Arlington’s current ordinance contains the same “reasonable person” standard. At the moment, the only enforceable parts of the ordinance require police or inspectors to either use a volume meter to see if noise is above a set threshold, or to catch someone engaging in a “prohibited act,” like idling an engine for too long or sounding a car horn for reasons other than as an “emergency warning signal.”

The revised ordinance will help with enforcement of the ordinance by clarifying how sound level meters are to be used to determine violations.

Under the ordinance, construction and special event noise above 90 dB will be prohibited. According to the staff report, it also “strengthens requirements to have developers and owners determine and provide industry-standard sound mitigation solutions for noise sources at construction sites.”

The threshold for vehicle noise will be 70-90 dB, depending on the vehicle’s speed and weight, and the threshold for other sources of noise will be 55-70 dB, depending on which part of the county the noise is impacting (residential, commercial, etc.).

The new ordinance also clarifies some of the “prohibited acts.” For instance, it will prohibit residents from playing music or blasting their TV so loud that it can be heard in another apartment or house at least 20 feet away, or in an adjacent yard at least 50 feet away.

The county government and its contractors are exempt from the ordinance.

While the ordinance calls for a warning to be issued to violators before any citations or criminal charges, it dramatically strengthens the penalties for those who continue to violate the ordinance unabated.

Violation of the ordinance is a basic misdemeanor, but under the proposed changes will carry a criminal fine of between $100 and $2,500, plus the possibility of up to 30 days in jail. And each calendar day in violation constitutes a separate offense. Civil penalties are another enforcement option, with civil fines of up to $250 for the first violation and up to $500 for each subsequent violation.

The Arlington County Police Department will be responsible for enforcement of the ordinance, along with inspectors from the county’s Community Planning, Housing and Development Department. Arlington Police Chief M. Douglas Scott says the department has been working with county staff to revise the ordinance.

“We have had staff working as part of the group that developed the proposed ordinance,” he told ARLnow.com. “We are confident the proposed ordinance will empower our officers in a way to take enforcement action if necessary for violations of the ordinance on police related calls. Our ultimate goal is voluntary compliance with noise related calls and we will only resort to enforcement if that compliance is not achieved.”

Enforcement of the revised ordinance is not expected to have an impact on the county’s bottom line, but additional ACPD and CPHD staff time will likely be required.

Should the County Board vote in favor of the request to advertise, a public hearing on the noise ordinance changes will be held on Dec. 8, 2012. After that, the Board will consider the ordinance amendment for final adoption.