Noise Bylaw: Draft available for review; Public Forum Thursday

[Editor’s Note: Full disclosure, my husband Joao Melo is a member of the Noise Bylaw Committee.]

The committee charged with drafting a Noise Bylaw in preparation for Annual Town Meeting is inviting the public to a forum this week.

This Thursday night, February 24th at 7:00 pm, the committee will present their draft, followed by a Q&A. The forum is an opportunity to weigh in on details before the Noise Bylaw Committee presents its final recommendation to the Board of Selectmen.

To view the draft bylaw, click here.

The draft outlines allowed hours for certain activities, describes exemptions, and includes the ability to apply for other exemptions from the Select Board.

Noises related to work by contractors have stricter hours than those created by homeowners:

Contracted Work Noise Standards (noise generated by paid work)

  1. Noise associated with Contracted Work is allowed between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM on weekdays and 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM Saturdays.
  2. Contracted Work shall not be allowed on Sundays or legal holidays.

Homeowner Work Noise Standards

Noise associated with Homeowner Work is allowed between 7:00 AM and 8:00 PM on weekdays, 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM on Saturdays and between the hours of 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM on Sundays
and Legal Holidays.

To keep the peace at night, under Prohibited Activities, the bylaw includes:

Yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling, singing, playing music or the making of any loud noises so as to annoy or disturb the reasonable quiet, comfort or repose of identified persons is prohibited between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

Between 9:00 pm and 7:00 am, prohibited noises include loading/unloading of trucks, trash dumpster collections, and crowd noise “audible beyond the premises” of a business with a liquor license.

Broad exemptions to restrictions include responses to emergencies, use of farming equipment, permitted public events, road/bridge repair work, utility installations, and school/church bells. Additionally, in the aftermath of storms, some activities are exempted from quiet hours:

Emergency activities including but not limited to: storm cleanup, power outages, snow removal, and use of generators provided such equipment be operated with a working muffler and/or a sound reduction device while in use.

Activities prohibited at any hour include the long idling of large trucks (with some defined exceptions). Sound from entertainment amplified by microphone “should not be plainly audible beyond the property boundaries of the establishment.” As someone who used to own a dog that loved to bark, the following prohibition jumped out at me: 

Unreasonably loud and disruptive noise for a duration of more than 20 minutes intermittently, defined as an average of two vocalizations or more per minute in that period, emitted by an animal. A person is responsible for an animal if the person owns, controls or otherwise cares for the animal.

Enforcement of the bylaw will fall under the purview of the Police Department and Board of Health.

In a section related to business and industrial noise it refers to state noise control regulations and describes that the Board of Health will respond to related complaints. It follows:

if the Southborough Board of Health (SBOH) determines that excessive noise is being generated, the SBOH can request the commercial source conduct a noise study to determine compliance and shall include a Return to Compliance Plan for any violations of DAQC Policy 90-001.

The clause that appears to provide police officers and Public Health with the most discretion on how to react to complaints is the following:

Unless further defined by standards within this bylaw, it shall be unlawful for any person at any location within the area of the Town to create any loud noise, or to allow the creation of any noise, on property owned, leased, occupied or otherwise controlled by such person, which causes an unreasonable disturbance beyond the property line that would disturb the peace.

Speaking of discretion, even for clear violations officials are given the ability to decide whether or not to impose fines:

an Enforcement Official shall have the option to issue a warning instead of a fine for violations if, in the Enforcement Official’s reasonable judgment and sole discretion, a warning is appropriate under the circumstances.

If fines are imposed, they will be:

$50 for the first offense
$100 for the second offense within 365 days of first offense.
$300 for each succeeding offense within 365 days of first offense. . .

Each day of violation of any provision of this chapter, whether such violation is continuous or intermittent, shall be construed as a separate and succeeding offense.

Worth noting, one of the initial organizers of last year’s Citizens Petition, Peter LaPine, resigned from the Committee before this draft was finalized. His email to the Select Board stated:

The group’s lack of objectivity is in equal parts disturbing and insurmountable.

Meanwhile, the co-proponent of last year’s Article, Lisa Dunderdale, is still one of the six remaining At-Large members.

One of the subjects of debate among committee members in determining what to restrict was regulation of noisy lawn equipment, especially gas powered leaf blowers.

As currently written, the bylaw doesn’t limit the decibel level of the equipment or the number of devices to be used within allowed hours. The one exception is the following clause related to the time of year when they are less in need:

From June 16 through September 14 and December 16 through March 14 only one gas-powered leaf blower is allowed to be in use at one time for a property up to 2 acres of land; a property over 2 acres of land can have a maximum of two gas-powered leaf blowers in use at one time.

Again, you can read the full draft language here. To attend the virtual meeting, follow the instructions here.

For more context on the Noise Bylaw effort, you can read past coverage here, including a look at the Committee’s survey results (here).

The Committee has held 14 meetings since they were first able to convene in early November. You can watch those meetings here and find most of the minutes here.

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Noisy resident
5 months ago

I will not stand for this. I reserve my right to hoot at all hours of the night. Thank goodness there is no proposed ban on hollering.

MarthaB
5 months ago
Reply to  Noisy resident

You mean hootin’ & hollerin?

Resident
5 months ago

I may have missed it but where is the forum being held? Thanks!

Resident
5 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Thanks, Beth.

Kelly Roney
5 months ago

The draft bylaw seems too extreme to me. I want to restrict leaf-blowers, too, but, for instance, restricting a 2-acre property to a single leaf-blower at a time just means they’ll run for at least twice as long.

There’s a whole lot of get offa my lawn – and your own – in this.

No need!
5 months ago

Even more obvious – there is really no need for using LEAF blowers May 1st through October 15th. It is insidious how the use of these devices has spread from the Fall to also include in the Spring – and eventually all Summer long!

The noise of gas powered leaf blowers is as disruptive as it is intrusive, not to mention damaging to the health of everyone within earshot! Why should residents shelling out $1000+/month in property taxes have to close their windows in the too short Summer in a vain attempt to block out the bruit?

Mow the lawns, weed whack the trim, then move on!

We, as a community, deserve better!

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