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Noise bylaw breakthrough remains unresolved

By Ross Lees
Prince Edward County council almost had a breakthrough on its troublesome noise and nuisance bylaw.
Councillor Alec Lunn brought his homework to Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting, presenting an amendment to the proposed bylaw.
Sometimes simple is by far the best policy, he noted, suggesting council defeat the present proposal, then amend the motion by simply including the phrase “any noise likely to disturb residents after 11 p.m.”
The proposal passed its first test when Chief Building Official Andy Harrison responded, “When I was talking to people about this bylaw, many residents just assumed that after 11 p.m. they had to keep the noise down. This might work.”
Lunn’s proposal got its second vote of confidence from councillor Kevin Gale. “I think it’s a great idea, I just don’t know why he didn’t bring it forward earlier.”
However, as simple as Lunn’s initial proposal seemed, it quickly became apparent the issue had much more complexity than a simple time could resolve.
Continued discussion revealed there would have to be two pertinent times  – 11 p.m. for residential areas and 2 a.m. for commercial areas such as bars and clubs in the more urban areas.
Sixty decibels was the level at which it was decided the noise bylaw should kick in after 11 p.m., except where exempted in the bylaw.
There will be much more detail contained within the bylaw about what is acceptable noise until the cutoff times, where it is permitted and who can make it. Agriculture continues to be one of the main operations exemplified within the bylaw, although municipal operations also get major passes as they go about their normal duties.
Mayor Peter Mertens said the more definition included in the bylaw, the better, but Lunn disagreed.
“I believe a lack of detail is a good thing,” he stated. “Somebody can say ‘You did this and it’s right here in black and white’ and we would have to charge them.” He said including fewer details would allow “some wiggle room” for negotiation in any dispute which then may be settled in discussion with the people in the dispute.
As discussion continued, Mertens’ requirement of details became clear.
Councillor Jim Dunlop exposed the first flaw in the Lunn proposal when he noted that Fields on West Lake was essentially an agricultural operation with commercial uses. Under the proposed bylaw, they could be exempted from the noise bylaw not only up to 2 p.m., but throughout the night with its current exemptions.
Fields on West Lake was recently fined $200 for violating the bylaw and while they could have faced a maximum penalty of $5,000, owners Mark Henry and Lynne Ellis intend to appeal the judge’s decision. Their battle began more than a year ago as relationships with neighbours of the special events barn between Wellington and Bloomfield faltered when the couple announced intentions to add a 20-room inn. Dispute has continued because of the County’s “vague” noise and nuisance bylaw that centres on a noise “Likely to disturb a resident”.
Councillor Bev Campbell said there were still many unresolved issues with the proposed bylaw and it should be referred back to the chief building official to be reworked – taking into account the discussions from the committee of the whole.

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  1. Beth says:

    Noise is perceived. What is noise to one person, is background sounds to another. And Gary, if someone is cutting grass every night, when it’s dark, outside your bedroom windows, that person just needs help.

  2. MaryLynn Ashton says:

    Garry Mooney;
    Thank you,thank you, thank you! I couldn’t have explained it better. Although, 60 decibels, is equal to conversation at 3-5 feet away.In practice, it equates to an unwanted person being permitted to have a conversation outside of your bedroom window from 2am- 7am every night.

  3. Gary Mooney says:

    Three factors should be considered regarding noise:

    1. Perceived loudness. A quiet bedroom at night is 30 dBA (decibels on the A-weighted scale). An increase of 10 dBA doubles the perceived loudness, 20 dBA = 4 times, 30 dBA = 8 times.

    2. Variability. A sound that is constant loudness is more tolerable than one that is variable (but the same average loudness). The noise limit should be reduced by 5 dBA if variable.

    3. Length of time. A sound that continues for 5 minutes is more tolerable than one that continues for an hour.

    People should be expected to accept a very loud noise for a few minutes, but not every night. But they shouldn’t be expected to endure a loud noise for several hours, except very occasionally.

    The following comments make use of information obtained from the website http://www.sengpielaudio.com/TableOfSoundPressureLevels.htm.

    A quiet bedroom at night is 30 dBA. Increasing noise by 30 dBA to 60 dBA is perceived as 8 times as loud and would seem to be too much, unless only briefly and occasionally.

    Here are three examples of noise at different dBA levels, which are useful in considering noise limits in a bedroom at night, along with suggestions (by me, not an expert) of how long such noises might be tolerated.

    1. 60 dBA – Example: Noisy lawn mower at 10 m distance. [GM]:Neighbour’s yard with the window open. Could be tolerated for a maximum of 5 minutes, but not every night.

    2. 55 dBA – Example: Noisy vacuum cleaner (or equivalent) at 10 m distance. [GM] Neighbour’s house with both windows open. Could be tolerated for a maximum of one hour, but not every night.

    3. 50 dBA – Example: Bird twitter outside at 15 m distance. [GM] Could be tolerated for several hours, but not all night every night.

  4. MaryLynn Ashton says:

    Ken;
    UNLIMITED noise/no maximum decibel reading until 2am is what is frightening!

  5. Ken says:

    Here’s a chart so you can see how frightening 60db is…

    http://www.gcaudio.com/resources/howtos/loudness.html

  6. MaryLynn Ashton says:

    Noise bylaw that was passed in February becomes crystal clear. Council,in their wisdom or confusion,depending on which one you talk to, have managed to remove all rights of residents to enjoy their property, and have given noise makers the green light! The current bylaw now allows UNLIMITED noise in a residential zoning until 11pm and UNLIMITED noise in all other zones until 2am. The zone is determined by the person or business making the noise. Noise must be kept under 60 decibles after 11pm or 2am depending on the zoning. Surrounding municipalities-Trenton, Belleville Kingston have quiet time at 7pm,9pm and 11pm repectively. Any municipality that has a decibel limit during these hours, caps it at 55 decibels. So,60 decibels in the wee hours,combined with the UNLIMITED all other hours is essentially no bylaw at all! Frightening!!

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