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Noise regulation and compliance enforcement to come with new bylaw

Details of rule compliance and enforcement when it comes to changes to the existing noise bylaw were received by council at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting in a report from staff. It is expected the new bylaw will be enacted at an August council meeting.

In his report, Mike Kelly, supervisor of bylaw services, recommended further changes to the noise bylaw to improve compliance of the rules.

Staff’s recommendations came from a November 2021 council meeting in which council asked staff to explore enforcement mechanisms in the bylaw to regulate noise.

Kelly’s report determined there needed to be administrative changes to remove ambiguities as a result of noise bylaw charter challenges when it comes to enforcing daytime noise restrictions.

“Staff now recommend passing a new noise bylaw, rather than an amendment, for clarity,” stated Kelly.

Proposed changes to be added to the new bylaw include a definition of “County”, new clauses added to the enforcement and right of entry, and a change to indoor amplified noise.

In the enforcement and right of entry section of the bylaw, new clauses include: “a person shall not obstruct or hinder an officer, an officer has reasonable grounds may require name and address of that person and every person shall provide proof of identification to officer when requested”.

The staff report also recommended including “indoor” to the relevant section as currently there is no restriction for indoor amplified noise.

“The previous bylaw had a decibel limit for residential and commercial properties whether the noise originated from indoor or outdoor,” said Kelly. “Without this addition, it will restrict enforcement abilities of potential noise complaints with respect to short-term accommodations, businesses and other indoor amplified volumes deemed inappropriate as a result of officer discretion.”

Removed from the new bylaw is the noise definition, “sound that disturbs the peace, is excessive, or that is unwanted by or disturbing to persons”, where Kelly noted noise bylaws have been subject to charter challenges as being void for vagueness.

“The term “ring any bell, blow or sound any horn, shout or make any unusual noise or noise likely to disturb the inhabitants of the municipality” has been upheld by the court on a challenge, it’s recommended to incorporate this format in the general prohibition,” he stated.

Also removed from the bylaw is commercial land use, holiday and statutory holiday and industrial land use definitions, as well as duplicate administrative sections.

“This is a good clean-up of the bylaw that we perhaps too rapidly approved before, so we have better general language in terms of the general exemption,” noted councillor John Hirsch.

Kelly noted in his report that the bylaw is complaint-driven.

“A complainant would need to submit an official complaint providing the particular details of the complaint.”

He noted noise is a found committing offence and enforcement tools of the bylaw include issuing a Part 1 ticket for the infraction committed where fines for the infractions would be set fines that are approved by the province, but can be appealed.

“If multiple fines are being issued and violations continue, an officer can issue a Part 3 summons and take the individual to court,” outlined Kelly. “This is a costly option and, for successful prosecution, the municipality will need to have substantial evidence to present to the courts.”

The report notes that when bylaw staff receive a complaint, they would investigate and proceed accordingly (bylaw staff work 9a.m.-7p.m. daily), which may include a warning or issuing a Part 1 set fine ticket if compliance is not gained.

“It is proposed to set objective standards in the policies and procedures manual which gives the bylaw officers a range of decibels that might be considered inappropriate,” stated the report. “Staff would use a decibel reader app on their cell phones and the app brand would be specified in the document to ensure all officers are using the same app for consistency.”

Outlining daytime noise examples, Kelly noted if a complaint is received for the use of a radio playing during the day, a bylaw officer would attend the location and, with the use of the procedure and app, take a decibel reading.

“If the limit is lower than what is listed in the procedure there may not be an infraction at this point,” said Kelly. “Upon further investigation, the bylaw officer confirms the digital volume level on the radio and determines that it does not seem out of place (for example, the bylaw officer does not feel any bass), there may not be an infraction.”

He noted if multiple complaints are received from other neighbours and, upon investigation using the same steps, the bylaw officer finds the volume is the same level then it may be considered “likely to disturb the inhabitants” and a ticket could be issued.”

“The most interesting part of the report was the discussion about enforcement and how we intend to do this with our bylaw staff having an app on their phones that can measure sound,” Hirsch said.

The staff report recommends anyone looking to file a complaint out of bylaw staff working hours should to contact the OPP.

“Bylaw staff are also not equipped to attend remote properties, parties or other gatherings at night, especially if alcohol or other substances are involved,” said Kelly. “If the OPP are not able to attend while the noise violation is taking place, the complainant can submit all the pertinent details of the violation to bylaw enforcement for review and a bylaw officer may issue a set fine ticket.”

The report further notes there may be challenges for the OPP with implementing a decibel limit for infractions because the OPP do not have decibel sound devices in their vehicles, and are not trained to operate and maintain such devices.

“The OPP have requested that decibel limits not be used in the bylaw and to continue to allow for officer discretion,” Kelly said. “In some cases, a volume meter may restrict enforcement if the noise is within acceptable noise limits, but the noise may not be appropriate for the surroundings when officer discretion is applied.”

He cited an example would be an amplified sound system, the entire volume may not register over the decibel limit, however the bass sound could be loud enough to cause a disturbance and the OPP would not be able to enforce in this case.

“Evidence suggests there is strong correlation between excessive noise and health. Through the introduction of a new noise bylaw, Prince Edward County can minimize the impact of noise pollution on human health and development and create a more livable community for residents and visitors,” the report stated.

“The most disappointing piece is it doesn’t seem the OPP is necessarily on side with having the same enforcement capability after hours, since we are saying our bylaw folks will not be available after 7pm,” expressed Hirsch. “As the report admits, much of the action in this respect, especially the noise, will be after that time.”

Hirsch said he was concerned it will have “differential application of the bylaw potentially before 7pm when our bylaw folks are working it, and after 7pm when it’s the OPP”.

“What do we expect to happen in the evening hours – could we perhaps have someone from bylaw on-call so we could have that consistent enforcement, at least until 11 p.m.?” Hirsch asked. “I would prefer we have a completely consistent approach, my concern is we have consistent administration regardless of the hour of the day.”

Councillor Phil St-Jean asked about better OPP reporting with regards to OPP after-hours noise enforcement, particularly as it pertains to noise complaints for short-term accommodations (STAs) where he asked if the OPP reports would be shared timely with bylaw.

“We have asked them to provide that data, so we can follow-up on it through the STA portion,” Kelly confirmed.

The draft bylaw to regulate noise will be brought forward at the Aug. 16 council meeting for enactment.

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  1. SS says:

    For those who may not be aware, the By-law Enforcement team is 100% complaint-driven.

    If anyone suspects that a by-law is being violated (such as Property Standards, Demolition, etc.) they can fill out a simple one-page “BY-LAW ENFORCEMENT COMPLAINT FORM” and email it to bylaw@pecounty.on.ca.

    Confidentiality of the information submitted on the form is then protected subject to anyone filing a Freedom of Information request.

    There are lots of places in the County where people say “something must be done” but there have been no Complaints filed. By-Law Enforcement can do nothing until there is a Complaint. Phone calls don’t seem to do it. File the form and then it can be tracked.

  2. This is Noise says:

    None of the noise sources mentioned in the bylaw discussion comes close to the over-the-top noise from vehicles with intentional noise making after market modifications.

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