Town Meeting: Voters call for a Noise Bylaw – just not the Article presented (Updated)

Voters expressed interest in implementing a noise bylaw but had concerns about details in Article 37, including restrictions to commercial landscaping noise during the day.

Although voters rejected a Citizen’s Petition Article, they made clear to Town officials that they want to see the issue behind it addressed.

On Saturday, resident Peter LaPine told fellow voters that his Article would fix an important issue – Southborough’s lack of a Noise Bylaw. Without the bylaw, Southborough Police are hamstrung when residents complain about excessively loud, late, or early noises.

It’s an issue that Police Chief Paulhus raised to selectmen in 2016 when he sought to bring an Article to Annual Town Meeting. At that time, selectmen recommended waiting to explore for 2017 Town Meeting. It was dropped until Selectman Sam Stivers (who had previously worked on it with Paulhus) offered to take it up again in the summer of 2019.

The Board still wasn’t ready to bring a draft bylaw to voters for Annual Town Meeting in 2020 or sponsor the version LaPine submitted. So he brought it forward as a Citizen’s Petition Article.* The pandemic pushed that (and most other Articles) to this year’s Annual Town Meeting.

At least two voters voiced support for passing the measure. A proponent, resident Lisa Dunderdale passionately described the disturbingly loud construction noises, including early morning disruptions, that her family has been subjected to for years. Planning member Marnie Hoolahan urged not to continue kicking the can down the road.

However others raised questions about or took issue with details in the bylaw. As written, the bylaw limited decibel levels not just at night. Daytime hours would allow louder-but still restricted decibel levels. There were exemptions from those restrictions including allowing residents “intermittent or occasional use, during the daytime, of homeowners’ light residential outdoor equipment”. But commercial landscapers and equipment wouldn’t be automatically exempted.

Joao Melo** asked how he would know if the “commercial” mower he uses on his lawn meets the allowed decibel levels. And Betsy Rosenbloom “confessed” that she hires a commercial landscaper to do her lawn. She worried that the bylaw doesn’t exempt landscapers for her and others in town. Board of Selectmen Chair Lisa Braccio said that it could cost residents extra to hire landscapers using less noisy equipment.

Paulhus referred to the bylaw as “not ready”, problematic to enforce, and overly complicated. He also stated that the number of noise complaints cited was overblown, since often the log states noise complaint but the officer finds a different issue upon arrival. A resident rebutted that many residents don’t bother to complain because they already know there isn’t a noise bylaw.

Several voters shared their desire to address noise issues, some with specific anecdotes, but didn’t support the exact version before them. At one point, Moderator Paul Cimino told voters approaching the mic that it appears everyone agreed a noise bylaw was needed, so comments should focus on Article 37 and whether it was the right bylaw.

Some commenters volunteered to serve on a committee to look into the right version of the bylaw to bring back to voters. The clear majority of the assembly voted to indefinitely postpone the Article.

*In December 2019, Stivers shared both LaPine’s version and his own prior draft with fellow selectment to discuss adding an Article to the Warrant for the 2020 Annual Town Meeting. He recommended sponsoring LaPine’s Article which he could continue to work on researching and preparing for the meeting. The majority of the Board decided it wasn’t ready and should be pushed off for a longer term look. They told LaPine that if he wasn’t willing to wait he could move forward to present it as a Citizen’s Petition Article.

**[Editor’s Note: Full disclosure – Joao Melo is my husband.]

Updated (5/26/21 3:18 pm): Peter LaPine reached out to me to clarify that the version selectmen discussed in 2019 was his. After consulting the minutes (and my memory), I corrected the description of the history.

Updated (6/3/21 8:51 am): Before the video was posted by SAM, I conflated Betsy Rosenbloom’s and Lisa Braccio’s comments about the lack of exemption for landscapers, attributing both stated concerns to Rosenbloom. It was Braccio who noted that it could result in an extra expense to residents.

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