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Leesburg mulls downtown noise reduction measures

Just as the Town of Leesburg has announced its Acoustic on the Green and other downtown venues prepare for summer events, the Town Council is mulling new measures to keep the noise down.

At its March 25 meeting, the council held a public hearing on amendments to the noise ordinance.

“Of the total number of complaints, 9 percent are from downtown area,” Assistant Town Manager Scott Parker said during his staff presentation. "It's a low number, but it's still an increase. With the emergence of downtown nightlife, it could go up."

The town's noise policy was last modified in 2009 to bring it up to speed with a Virginia Supreme Court decision on noise levels.

Parker explained there were two ways to judge noise: by decibel level or a “per se” system that judges plainly audible noise levels. Leesburg currently uses the plainly audible method, something Parker argued was too open to interpretation.

Parker outlined changes regarding the noise levels that he said staff felt helps to “create a balance of both interests” for business and residential areas.

The staff's new proposal offers using sound monitoring equipment to measure the decibel level from businesses in residential areas. Measured from 50 feet between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., noise should not be greater than 70 decibels, the equivalent of noise from road traffic or a hair dryer 1 meter from your ear. Between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., that level drops to 55 decibels, similar to a low-droning television 1 meter away or a vacuum cleaner at 10 meters. A plainly audible rule would still be maintained as well.

The new proposal did not address a decibel limit in commercial areas deep enough to not affect residential areas; rather, businesses would have noise restrictions lifted from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Additionally, the proposed amendment did determine a process for business-to-business noise restrictions, something Parker said staff is working on. Purely residential-to-residential complaints would still be dealt with using the plainly audible standards.

Per law, violators of noise ordinances receive one warning. Second offenders receive a public nuisance citation, which is a class 2 misdemeanor.

The council ultimately did not vote on the proposal, moving it toward discussion at a later work session.

A handful of speakers attended to express support for stricter noise rules.

“We clearly hear music several nights per week specifically Tuesday through Saturday, even with our windows closed,” said Teri Simonds. “Imagine being at a hotel room while the TV next door is blaring. This is what we endure during spring, summer and fall."

Still, some businesses and local musicians have already expressed opposition to the potential move.

MacDowell Brew Kitchen on Harrison Street, which saw controversy last year with zoning regulations, has already begun circulating a petition to “save our sounds.”

A community meeting and demonstration is scheduled for April 7 in the garden next to the parking garage. A musician will be in attendance to help determine how loud the sounds are.



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