County Code – Ordinance to amend County Code Chapter 7, Article I, Noise



Public hearing to consider proposed ordinance to amend County Code Chapter 7, Article I, Noise



Messrs. Tucker, Foley, Davis, Kamptner, and Miller





December 2, 2009


ACTION:     X          INFORMATION: 



  ACTION:             INFORMATION: 










Excessive or unwanted sound (“noise”) has many adverse impacts including physical and mental impairment, impacts on traffic safety, and diminished job and school performance.  A nationwide survey of the regulation of noise by localities identified three common approaches: (1) by prohibiting sounds that exceed prescribed sound levels described in decibels and measured using sound meters (the County’s noise regulations in the Zoning Ordinance, which regulate noise generated by land uses, use this approach) (2) by prohibiting sound levels that are audible from a specified distance or location, for a specified period (the proposed ordinance attached hereto as Attachment A would adopt this approach); or (3) by prohibiting noise levels that are loud, disturbing or raucous so as to disturb or annoy the reasonable person, i.e., “nuisance noise.”  The County’s current noise regulations in Chapter 7 primarily use this latter approach to prohibit nuisance noise.  However, in April, 2009, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down a similar noise ordinance of the City of Virginia Beach, holding that the City’s nuisance noise standards were unconstitutionally vague because they failed to inform a person of ordinary intelligence what conduct was permitted or prohibited and because the nuisance noise standards allowed subjective application. 


Because of the similarities between the City of Virginia Beach’s noise ordinance and the County’s Chapter 7 noise regulations, the Police Department has held its enforcement of the subjective noise regulations in abeyance while this text amendment was pending.  The Board held a public hearing on a proposed noise ordinance on July 1, 2009 (the “June 24 draft ordinance”).  In the Board’s discussion of the June 24 draft ordinance, the Board expressed concerns that the proposed regulations were too restrictive and that sounds from people conversing outdoors, such as at outdoor social gatherings, and the sounds of children playing, could be violations of the proposed ordinance.  The Board deferred action and asked staff to re-evaluate the standards in light of a then-pending report on the regulation of noise being developed by a committee of local government attorneys and the noise regulations adopted by other localities after the Virginia Supreme Court’s Virginia Beach decision.



Goal 1:  Enhance the Quality of Life for all Albemarle County Residents



The proposed noise regulations have been re-evaluated and revised to address the Board’s concerns expressed at the July 1, 2009 public hearing.  In preparing the revised ordinance, staff considered the report of the local government attorneys committee as well as the noise regulations recently adopted by other localities.  The proposed ordinance is simpler and more narrowly tailored than the June 24 draft ordinance.  Whereas the June 24 draft proposed to regulate all audible noises that violated the proposed distance and location standard, the proposed ordinance now focuses on specific noises that are commonly found to be nuisances.  Following is a summary of the key elements of the proposed ordinance: 


·                     Section 7-103 Definitions: Several definitions were added to provide additional clarity and several definitions were amended, including the definitions of “motor vehicle” and “motorcycle.”

·                     Section 7-104 General Prohibition: This section is significantly revised and simplified.  The June 24 draft ordinance prohibited noise from any sound source, depending on the duration of the sound, the distance or location at which the sound was audible, and the time of day during which the sound was produced.  Under that draft ordinance, any sound not covered by a specific prohibition delineated in Section 7-105 or exempt under Section 7-106 could be a violation.  That standard has been replaced with a standard that only prohibits the production of sound that causes at least a 15 decibel (dBA) increase in the sound level above the ambient sound level, where a violation would be determined using a sound meter following a prescribed methodology.  This standard already exists in the current noise regulations and was one of the specifically prohibited acts delineated in Section 7-105 of the June 24 draft ordinance.  Staff anticipates that this general prohibition would be rarely used because of the transitory nature of most noise problems, because land-use based noise violations are regulated under the Zoning Ordinance, and because recurring noise problems that are not covered by the Zoning Ordinance would be addressed as a specifically prohibited act under Section 7-105. 


·                     Section 7-105 Specific Acts Prohibited: This section is the cornerstone of the proposed noise ordinance and it has been significantly revised since the June 24 draft ordinance to expand the list of specifically prohibited noise classes to eight.  Staff believes that these eight classes will substantially address most nuisance noise complaints.  Four of the five added classes are acts that would be exempt for part of the day (specified daytime hours) and prohibited other parts of the day (specified nighttime hours).  Under the June 24 draft ordinance, these four classes would have been enforced under the general noise prohibition in Section 7-104 during the times of day the acts were not exempt.  The fifth added class pertains to sound produced by off-road vehicles.  Generally, each act specifically prohibited under Section 7-105 would be a violation if the sound is audible from a distance of 100 feet or more from the property line of the parcel on which the sound source is located or from within a dwelling unit on a parcel other than the one on which the sound source is located.  These are the same standards proposed in the June 24 draft ordinance.  The Board expressed concern at the July 1 public hearing that the 100-foot standard was too restrictive.  The 100-foot distance is consistent with the noise regulations adopted by other Virginia localities and is much less restrictive than those in many localities, including the County of Chesterfield, the City of Williamsburg, and the Town of Blacksburg, each of which has adopted a 50-foot standard.      


·                     Section 7-106 Exempt Sounds: The key change to the list of exempt sounds in this section is the addition of an exemption for sound produced by a person’s voice.  This exemption is intended to expressly address the Board’s concern expressed at the July 1 public hearing that the noise regulations would prohibit people conversing outdoors, such as in outdoor social gatherings, and children playing.     


Attachment A is the revised ordinance recommended for adoption.  Attachment B is a draft ordinance showing the changes made to the June 24 draft ordinance.  Attachment C is a draft ordinance providing a detailed section-by-section commentary explaining the regulations in depth.






After conducting a public hearing, staff recommends that the Board adopt the ordinance identified as Attachment A.




A – Proposed Ordinance

B – Draft ordinance showing changes made to the June 24 draft ordinance

C – Draft ordinance with section-by-section commentary
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