Noise Bylaw Committee: Apply by Tuesday; Charge revised; BOS discusses need for balance

by beth on September 2, 2021

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Above: Selectmen discussed how to appoint and charge a committee that will balance residents’ upset over disruptive/too loud (or too early/late) noises against other community concerns, like the ability to hire landscapers. (image from flickr by Dr. Boli)

The Board of Selectmen is following through on a promise to appoint members of an Ad-hoc Committee to recommend a Noise Bylaw for Southborough. The plan is to name members at their first meeting this month “come hell or high water”.

Residents interested in serving are asked to put in their names by end of day Tuesday, September 7th. (An agenda has been posted for a virtual meeting the evening of September 8th, including interviews for the Committee.)*

The “high water” promise, made in July by member Marty Healey was a tongue in cheek reference, echoing a promise he made the week prior. At that time he believed that the Board would appoint members on July 22nd. Instead, selectmen decided to postpone the decision to September, to allow more residents to apply.

In July, Chair Lisa Braccio asked the Board to wait. She wasn’t comfortable that the volunteers who came forward represented a enough diversity in terms of how restrictive versus non-restrictive a bylaw would be. That discomfort grew after she reached out to the community for more volunteers.

The Chair said that in making 20-30 phone calls, she learned that a lot of people were unaware of the opportunity. Some were upset that the Board was recruiting and planning to seat members for an important committee in the summer. She referred to a “mass exodus” of residents during summer months.

Healey opined that he was fine with the diversity of volunteers that came forward. His concern was making sure there wasn’t a public perception that the process was rushed and imbalanced.

Member Andrew Dennington weighed in that the Board may never get the perfect balance of members. He suggested that since the Committee’s role is to recommend a draft bylaw, selectmen would serve as the check. Their Board could make changes to a proposed bylaw if needed.

Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski countered that she believed it was important for the draft bylaw requirements to be vetted by a committee who would be able to explain to the public why choices were made.

She suggested that the fix needed for balance wasn’t to the pool of volunteers but to the Committee’s Charge the Board had approved in June.

Malinowski noted that a bylaw that would impact the everyday lives of all residents would likely be voted on by 100-200 Town Meeting attendees. She recommended requiring public forums be held for input prior to drafting of a bylaw. Others agreed.

Braccio acknowledged that delaying appointments to September meant a bylaw wouldn’t be ready for Fall Town Meeting. But she expressed skepticism that would have been possible anyway.

Malinowski posited a simple Article could be passed in the fall as a stop gap until Annual Town Meeting in the spring.

The Vice Chair opined that discussion at Town Meeting indicated residents would support a simple restriction by hours. She understood that a bylaw ultimately needs to work for everyone. But she also understood that for people living with some of the issues shared need relief sooner.

That conversation point wasn’t followed up on by other members, and isn’t reflected in the Committee’s Charge.

At their August 17th meeting, the Board approved an updated version of the Charge. 

Charge revisions added holding at least three public forums to collect input. Malinowski also inserted having the Committee “Clearly define purpose and enforcement that address current issues”.

The Board debated the merits of instructions in the Charge for the Committee to review previous versions of proposed noise bylaws. Braccio was concerned that the Committee not use a prior draft as a starting point. All agreed that wasn’t the intent. Member Sam Stivers was concerned that not including past proposals for reference would lose prior work.

In the end, the Board settled on changing “Review” of the past drafts to “Collect”.

Here is the updated Charge:

NOISE BYLAW AD-HOC COMMITTEE CHARGE

Charge and Process

The Noise Bylaw Ad-Hoc Committee (the “Committee”) is charged with the task of preparing a draft of a proposed noise bylaw for Southborough (the “Draft Bylaw”).

The work of the Committee shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Collect previous versions of noise bylaws prepared for Southborough’s town meetings;
  • Review of the noise bylaw experience of other towns, particularly with respect to measurement of noise levels and flexibility for homeowners and commercial landscapers to maintain properties;
  • Conduct a minimum of three (3) public forums for community (residents, businesses, etc.) input;
  • Clearly define purpose and enforcement that address current issues;
  • Consideration and evaluation of other approaches to selected aspects of the draft bylaw, and providing a report describing the “pros” and “cons” of these other approaches and the reason(s) that these alternatives were not recommended; and
  • Providing periodic progress reports, as may be requested by the Board of Selectmen.

Membership

The Committee shall consist of five (5) “at-large” voting members, and two (2) ex-officio, non-voting members as follows:

  • Five (5) “at-large” residents of the town of Southborough, appointed by the Board of Selectmen;
  • The Southborough chief of police, as an ex-officio, non-voting member; and
  • One member of, or designee of, the Southborough Board of Health, as an ex-officio, non-voting member.

Term, Administration and Organization

  • The Committee members shall be appointed for a term ending June 30, 2022;
  • Ex-officio, non-voting Committee members shall not be counted for purposes of determining a quorum;
  • Members shall serve without financial compensation; and
  • The Committee shall determine what, if any, officers should be elected.

Schedule

The Committee shall perform the work as detailed in the charge to deliver the draft bylaw and related reports by no later than 30 days before the printing deadline for the Warrant for a Town Meeting (regular or special, as applicable) where the bylaw will be considered.

The Committee shall work to produce a draft bylaw for consideration by Town Meeting as soon as reasonably possible, with the timing objective of no later than the 2022 Annual Town Meeting.

To apply to be appointed to the committee, click here. To view the Board’s initial interview of volunteers on July 13th, click here.

*Updated (9/3/21 12:27 pm): Initially, I noted that a prior agenda indicated the next BOS meeting would be on September 8th, but no agenda had been posted for it yet. This morning that agenda was posted.

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