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Leesburg Council Pulls Plug On Noise Ordinance Changes

© Leesburg Today - 05/27/2015

Leesburg won't be turning down-or up-its noise limits in the foreseeable future.

After a motion Tuesday night by Councilman Dave Butler to adopt a decibel-based noise ordinance failed on a 1-6 vote, the Town Council silenced the debate altogether with a 4-3 vote directing the town staff to halt all work on the yearlong effort to revamp the regulations. Butler and council members Tom Dunn and Suzanne Fox dissented.

""I personally am tired of the work on this noise ordinance, let's just put it to bed,"" Councilman Marty Martinez said.

Butler's motion followed an April 28 defeat when no council member supported his proposed ordinance that would limit noise to a decibel level of 75 during daytime hours (7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday). All other hours would be considered nighttime, with a decibel limit proposed to be 55.

His motion did not receive a second last month, but on Tuesday night Fox supported a discussion of the proposal. She advocated a decibel-base system because she had concerns with the vagueness and constitutionality of the current ordinance. The current regulation prohibits ""plainly audible"" noise.

""Both businesses and residents have a place in town, and they need to respect each other and find middle ground,"" Fox said.

Town Attorney Barbara Notar said the plainly audible standard has ""an ounce of subjectivity,"" but the state Supreme Court has ruled the system is well within the rights of municipalities to use.

Butler brought props for his speech on why the current ordinance is ""a bad one."" At one point, he played notes/a tune on a recorder.

""If I play this in my backyard I'm violating the current ordinance,"" Butler said. ""My neighbors could complain and the police would be compelled to tell me not to play.""

He pointed out that the law allows him to sing or yell as loud as he wanted until 10 p.m. and that he could crank up his lawnmower at 7 a.m. on a Sunday without violating the current ordinance.

Other council members were quick to say the current standard is fine.

""I believe the council made its decision the last time without the second,"" Councilwoman Katie Sheldon Hammler said.

Councilwoman Kelly Burk and Mayor Kristen Umstattd said the 75-decibel limit was too high and supported keeping the current ordinance. Burk said she was open to changing the punishment scale, however. A violation of the ordinance is punished as a Class 2 Misdemeanor, with confinement in jail for up to six months and a fine of up to $1,000.

Councilman Tom Dunn suggested making changes to the current ordinance, including the establishment of a duration that must be met for a noise can be declared ""excessive.""

Debate over the town's rules that govern noise levels has hummed for more than year, with business owners, musicians, residents and council members wrangling over how to determine what's too loud and how to enforce a standard.

The topic will die down for now, but Butler said once more residents begin to learn about the ""plainly audible"" standard, it will create more problems.

""It's clear that our current noise ordinance is unethical,"" Butter said. ""Be prepared for this to come up again.""

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