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Noise bylaw continues to be a nuisance

By Nicole Kleinsteuber
Prince Edward County’s noise/nuisance bylaw will be back before council at its July 26 meeting after discussion at last week’s committee of the whole meeting about complaints noting venues were being too loud until 2 a.m.

The municipal noise bylaw allows an unlimited amount of sound to be made on non-residential property until 2 a.m.

Dave Ashton, an owner of a local cottage resort outside Wellington, asked council to amend the current bylaw, lowering the current decibel level to a “reasonable level” on non-residential properties.

“Any person or company unless you’re on a residential property can do whatever you want at any decibel level,” said Ashton.  “You can have a jet airplane in your yard.”

Ashton said his business relies on peace and quiet at night and he was forced to call the bylaw officer a few weeks ago about excessive noise coming from a neighbouring venue after 11 p.m.

Chief Building and Bylaw officer for Prince Edward County, Andy Harrison, said this is this is the first complaint that has come through his office after 11 p.m.

“Noise at night hasn’t been a big issue in the county this year,” said Harrison in an interview.

Wellington resident Richard Parks said he was surprised by the new bylaw and called it a free for all.

“Two weeks ago I couldn’t watch my TV or listen to my stereo,” said Parks.  “I had to turn on my radio and go to bed.”

Parks asked council to draft a new bylaw defining specific perimeters and times to protect those who receive noise not those who make it.

“If you could snap your fingers and make something happen when would you like to see the noise stop?’  asked councillor Keith MacDonald.

“Personally, midnight below 60 decibels,” said Parks.

Councillor Dunlop would like to see the noise bylaw enforced at midnight for commercial property.

Dunlop said the previous bylaw was vague and it was changed because it didn’t allow for any noise above 60 decibels.  He said some residents ended up in court over it.

“The law said you can keep venues open until 3 o’clock in the morning, we decided to have the noise bylaw reflect that time,” said Dunlop.  “We’ve gone from one extreme to the next.”

Councillor Jamie Forrester said he was surprised by the new bylaw and that there is going to be discrepancy between what was passed.

“We’re living in an aging community here where a lot of people go to bed at 9 or 10 pm,” said Forrester.  “To say it’s ok to make as much noise as you want isn’t ok.”

Council approved a motion for staff to bring an amendment to the noise/nuisance bylaw as it relates to the noise level times to the July 26 council meeting.
* * *

JAN 14 – 2011:
By Ross Lees
A proposal for a new nuisance and noise bylaw brought to council’s committee of the whole meeting Thursday will be forwarded to staff for further review.

“I’m afraid if we pass this bylaw we will open ourselves up to even more charges,” said Ameliasburgh councillor Janice Maynard.

Chief Building Official Andy Harrison’s report for the bylaw drew on other municipalities’ proposed decibel level requirements but councillors weren’t convinced with the method.

Maynard said any use of decibel levels should only deal with the noisiest of situations. “If we adopt this proposed bylaw, we will be grossly unfair to the residents of this county,” she stated.

Athol councillor Jamie Forrester agreed saying “We need to take our time and do this properly.”

Forrester and others speculated that issues like snowmobiling, jet skiing and even motorcycle riding could by badly impacted by the proposed bylaw as it stood and would only serve to create even more neighbourly disputes.

Picton councillor Bev Campbell spoke to the urgency of the issue, noting council needs to replace the present bylaw because any charge could now be won in court if it could be proved the person(s) proceeding with the charge had been “disturbed.”

“We have been able to negotiate with complainants to this point but with this decision (recent court decision against Fields On West Lake), it could get worse,” Campbell said. “This is a good starting place and it is better than what we’ve got.”

The proposed bylaw would have had exemptions for certain events or actions like cutting lawns or wood, farming or municipal duties or events during certain “allowed” times, but Maynard felt there were too many exemptions and the potential for argument was every bit as open as in the first bylaw.

Sophiasburgh councillor Terry Shortt said council also had to be cognizant of the desire to be a tourist destination.

“We’re trying to make Prince Edward County a tourist destination, but this has the potential for singing and playing musical instruments while camping to become complaints. By passing this bylaw, we could be taking ourselves away from what we want to promote.”

Through a motion proposed by Campbell, the report by the chief building official was received and referred back to staff for further review.

The Chief Building Official’s report here

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  1. Beth says:

    A tidbit of information, small examples of what produces noise at the different levels
    http://www.howstuffworks.com/question124.htm

    To attempt to regulate “noise” by decibel level is difficult. There are people who would not object to neighbours having some quiet music and conversation late at night, and there are people who would object to anything caused by others after 11.

    I have said it before and I will say it again, Noise is Perceived.

  2. MaryLynn Ashton says:

    Wellington’s new secondary plan suggests mixed use development within neighbourhoods- ie- commercial mixed in with residential. Wonder how compatible that would be with the current noise bylaw allowing unlimited noise between 7am and 2am?????

  3. Thomas Marshall says:

    Here’s a link to Wellington Time’s take on Noise and Nuisance.

    http://wellingtontimes.ca/turn-up-the-volume/

  4. Lori Smith says:

    I agree with Chris about the decibel level as in many cases it may not be the actual loudness but the type of noise. We’ve all heard the car from blocks away with the really low bass and some people find the tinny sound of small wind chimes very annoying. I am more in favour of keeping the current noise bylaw since I think it may help those unfortunate residents whose neighbours are planning on renting their land for wind turbines. At least maybe they can get some compensation for their property value loss & sleepless nights form the neighbours who are benefitting at their expense.

  5. Chris Keen says:

    Good luck to Council finding a decibel level that turns out to be workable. Have a look at Belleville’s bylaw and you’ll see there is no mention of decibel levels. It’s designed as a live and let live document – negotiation rather than legislation being the solution. It’s really unfortunate that Council has been dragged into a seemingly nasty dispute between neighbours where it appears one is not open to negotiation of any sort.

    http://www.city.belleville.on.ca/Bylaws/BY-LAW%20NO%2013269.pdf

    By the way, I cannot imagine that any candidate in PEC would ever suggest “getting the combines of the road”.

  6. Nancy says:

    Check out this site -The Farming and Food Protection Act

    http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/facts/05-013.htm#6

    “Farmers are protected from nuisance complaints made by neighbours, provided they are following normal farm practices.
    No municipal by-law applies to restrict a normal farm practice carried on as part of an agricultural operation”

    As you see these laws for Ontario farmers supercede any municipal by-law. The county by-law will be for other noise related issues. If Peter did state the above comment you will find that he nor the muncipality can restrict combine movements.

  7. Doris Lane says:

    I agree with Debbie that staff should not form the by-law. I have not seen the draft but I gather that it is rather restrictive. We live in a farming community and farmers have to move their machinery from field to field and from Farm to farm.
    We cannot as you say get the combines off the road. We have to be tolerant.
    Fet the speeders and the hot wheelers off the road. prohibt people from running their cars at full speed while standing still.
    I think the idea of a committee is an excellent idea –we need input from everyone it is not for a few people who have no real connection with the effects of noise to make the laws. this whole thing has be studied very thoroughly.

  8. Debbie Deano says:

    “It is my intention to get the combines off the road. ” This was a statement made by Mayoral Candidate Peter Mertens at the all candidates meeting in Ameliasburgh last year.

    It is not surprising to see that his “ intention” appears to be reflected in the recent noise bylaw that staff brought before committee of the whole last week to get a noise bylaw created by staff, with one of the objectives to be to inhibit farmers from conducting their business as is required.

    Right now the noise bylaw gives more rights to a resident snow blowing his driveway at 3 am than it does to a farmer conducting normal farm chores to support his family.

    As a relative newcomer by County standards, I am well aware that agriculture communities work within confines of weather, be it precipitation or temperature. I am not so self absorbed that I believe everyone in the County should work within the urbanite time frame of “ working hours”

    Farmers conserve water by irrigating when the sun has gone down. We criticize people for wasting water but are effectively tying their hands by suggesting noise bylaws be created to inhibit the hours they can operate. Sprays cannot be applied in excessive heat so farmers need to spray before temperatures rise or rains occur in order to protect their crops. Impending precipitation requires farmers to often work through the nights to save their crops from disease, or total ruin. These are factors outside of human control that farmers must contend with in order to make a living, and that we as accountants, retailers, lawyers or retirees do not factor into our daily lives.

    The suggestion that a committee be formed to address this impending noise bylaw was shot down in favour of staff addressing it. It would be a huge error to have such an important bylaw once again left in the hands of staff, rather than in a committee consisting of staff, council and stakeholders. It will be far too easy for individuals on council to unduly influence “their staff” in the direction the recommendation takes. Where is the transparency? At least in a committee, there are public minutes.

    I would encourage councilors to revisit their decision to send this bylaw to staff for review, but instead form a committee of stakeholders, both residential, rural tourism and agricultural to work together for a solution that is fair to all.

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