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Noise Petition Falls Short of Signatures, Council Recommends Alternatives

(Crystal A. Proxmire)


City Council held a special meeting on Monday, Sept 20, 2010 to discuss the noise ordinance.


A petition circulated by West Troy Street resident Sherry Wells and other residents in the Downtown Area calling for a new noise ordinance was submitted to the City Clerk last week, but it had too many invalid signatures to make it to City Council.  There were 267 signatures on 25 sheets handed in, and 53 were not valid, mainly because people who had signed were not registered voters. 


Wells and 6-10 other residents are back at work trying to get enough signatures to move forward.  The petition has brought attention to the issue of Downtown noise increases since more businesses have moved in, particularly those with outdoor patios and outdoor events. 


However, the ordinance on the petition has raised concerns by other residents, business owners, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and members of Council who agree that while the noise issue needs to be addressed, the petition circulating is not the answer. 


While all of those groups have been expressed concerns, Mayor Craig Covey summed up the issues by saying “"I'm very leery of this kind of proposal going before the voters in Ferndale, especially if we are forced to hold it as a special election, which could cost the city thousands of dollars. 


‘The voters elect their city council to make these kinds of decisions, and the council appoints professional staff to manage the city on an ongoing basis.  Rather than wait for the city to act on recommendations from the DDA and staff, a tiny group of disgruntled residents are trying to take a giant step backward and change the entire nature of our downtown.


‘This ordinance is very poorly written, and in the unlikely case the voters pass the proposal, it could literally shut down once again our downtown.  It would in effect ban music downtown, including the backround music from our DDA, music from patios, and even indoor music during summer months.  It could affect events such as the Blues Festival, the DreamCruise, the Pridefest, and the ArtFairs. 


‘It threatens to shut down sound downtown after 7 pm.  Everything that so many of worked for over the past two decades to transform Ferndale into a thriving, popular, and hip city could go for naught,” Covey said.


While the residents have been gathering signatures, the City Ordinance Committee has been meeting to come up with solutions they think would be a good for both residents and businesses. They also conducted a public comment meeting on the issue, which you can read more about here: http://www.ferndale115.com/20100724noise.html.


City Attorney Daniel Christ presented the Ordinance Committee recommendations to Council at the special meeting.  He also answered questions about the ordinance that is on the Citizen Petition. 


Because the petition failed to get enough valid signatures, it is not yet set to be considered by Council.  If the petition is successful, it will necessitate a special election and voters will then decide if the Citizen Petition becomes the ordinance. 


Citizen Petition


Section 2-100 to read:  "Exceeding these sound levels is prima facie evidence that such sound is in violation of this Code, but Section 2-98 is controlling.”  

(a) (1) Continuous sound. No person shall cause, suffer, allow, or permit the operation of any source of sound on any property or in the public right-of-way in such a manner as to create a sound level that exceeds these sound level limits, as measured at or within the property line of the source:  

      Residential/mixed   7 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- 65 dB(A) ; Residential/mixed   7 p.m. to 7 a.m.-- 60 dB(A); Commercial  7 a.m. to 10 p.m. -- 65 dB(A); Commercial 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. -- 60 dB(A); Industrial 24 hrs. -- 75 dB(A)                                             

      Amplified Sound Reproduction Device. Such devices are prohibited outside of a fully enclosed, roofed, closed building. Additionally, if a complainant states that the rhythmic bass component from its source is disturbing within his/her residence, then the authorized city official may take sound level measurements within that residence and shall use the dB(C) weighted network. [Provisions (2), (3) and (b) remain unchanged.]

Section 2-102 (3) to read:   Parades, concerts, festivals, fairs or similar activities may be approved by the city council for up to 10 decibels above the sound pressure limits specified above.


Sec. 2-98.  Prohibited acts; generally.

No person shall create, assist in creating, continue or permit the continuation of any excessive or unnecessarily loud disturbance of noise of a high volume or intensity which is clearly audible and disturbs, annoys, or endangers the calm, comfort, quiet, repose, health, peace or safety of others beyond the immediate vicinity of the disturbance. Such noise disturbance shall be a violation of this article.


Questions about proposed ordinance answered:


- According to City Atty. Daniel Christ under this ordinance the following activities could be reason for a citation if someone complains about them:  mowing a lawn, kids playing in a yard loudly, someone having a radio outside or on their porch, a band playing outside.  It would also eliminate outdoor music through speakers.


-Christ explained that because the ordinance says 2-98 is controlling, it means that a person or business could be ticketed and fined even if their noise is within the acceptable decibel levels if someone complains that the noise “disturbs, annoys, or endangers the calm, comfort, quiet, repose, health, peace or safety of others beyond the immediate vicinity of the disturbance.”


Alternative Recommendations 


Ordinance Committee Recommendations


-No distinction between residential and commercial, so that enforcement is easier especially in areas where zones meet and sound travels outside of the originating zone.


-Sunday –Wednesday noise levels -measured in DB(A) - drop from 75 to 65 at 7pm, and Thursday – Saturday levels would drop from 75 to 65 at 10pm.


-Sound levels at DB(C) would also be reduced at the same times.  (DB(c) measurements record the amount of bass, whereas DB(A) deals with sound volume)


Attorney Christ

Christ suggested that before Council take action they study current noise levels in various locations in the city.  The previous ordinances were passed about ten years ago, based on sound studies that were conducted in the wintertime (not peak).


DDA Suggestion


Cristina Shepard-Decius, Executive Director of the DDA suggested allowing outdoor music and sound, but only if businesses agree to a sound site plan that is created or reviewed by the DDA, Community Development, and a sound expert, to ensure that sound stays in the area it is intended.  Resident Mark Perrin also has given this suggestion in the past.


Council Suggestions


Councilperson Scott Galloway suggested that the city investigate if there are regulators that can be used to control sound and prevent the volume from being raised past the allowable limits.


Mayor Craig Covey suggested that rather than placing such heavy restrictions on all businesses and residents, that the residents try to work out their differences with Rosie O’Grady’s apart from a petition that affects everyone.



Council did not make any motions at the special meeting, only listened to suggestions and comments from the City Attorney, the DDA, and the public.  Wells and the residents continue to seek out enough signatures to place the Citizen Initiative ordinance on the ballot. Mayor Covey and other City leaders urge residents not to sign the petition and to be patient as they go through the process of revising the ordinance in a way that would be fair to all parties involved.


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