Noise ordinance debate: How loud is too loud?
To help set a baseline, Town Attorney Steven Michael said Monday that police had checked areas of KDH with a decibel meter.
“The readings we got from various places did not demonstrate a significant noise problem,” Michael told the Board of Commissioners.
But Al Dugita, who spoke during public comments at Monday’s board meeting, said he had called police over the weekend about loud music coming from a DJ on an outdoor deck at the Pit around 1 a.m.
Dare County is also getting an earful about its proposed noise ordinance.
In many areas, the generally accepted threshold for residential neighborhoods is 60 decibels, which is about the level of a normal conversation.
But limits are applied to noise levels some distance from a source and often inside another building or home. So an ear-splitting band inside a bar could be no louder than a conversation inside a house a block away.
Kill Devil Hills now specifies 60 decibels in residential areas during the day and 55 at night. It adds that the acceptable maximum for amplified noise without a special permit is 65 decibels at the nearest public right-of-way.
The ordinance, however, does not set down times nor does it address levels in commercial areas where entertainment venues are located.
Michael said that several specific venues seemed to be the main sources of noise complaints. But the level might depend on the time of night, the kind of music or who’s in charge. Generally, when owners are informed, the volume is turned down. But owners are not always on site.
“We need to get some consistent readings from those,” he said.
The loudest reading measured in Kill Devil Hills was 84 decibels from an empty dumpster being dropped to the ground, he said. According to a chart on the Dare County website, that’s about the same as a passing diesel truck or a snow blower.
Also to be considered is whether a higher commercial or the residential level would be applied if a homeowner or renter complained about loud music from a nearby bar or restaurant.
The town board decided to get more readings and see what happens at a public hearing before county commissioners next week.
A new ordinance in Dare County could have a significant impact on Hatteras Island.
Last month, commissioners sent a proposal back to the Planning Board for reworking. It had specified 60 decibels in residential areas from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 50 overnight. In commercial and public areas, the maximim would be 65 decibels and in industrial areas, 70.
The County Planning Board heard public comments Monday night about the ordinance. Concerns were mainly expressed by wedding planners and the owner of Real Watersports, which stages several major events a year.
Planning Director Donna Creef said issues for consideration that she will bring to the Board of Commissioners next Monday is looking at 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. as the latest hour for higher levels.
Also brought up at a hearing Monday, she said, was the possibility of a three-day maximum for a special permit allowing a venue to exceed the limit. Trip Forman, an owner of Real Watersports, said seven days should be allowed. His business sponsors a seven-day kiteboarding event in June.
Rental houses that are marketed as wedding venues could also be affected by a new ordinance. Limiting special permits to one per quarter would cut into their business.
Because the existing ordinance generally prohibits loud disturbing noises, enforcement is subjective, Creef said. The county had received complaints about outdoor music at restaurants on Hatteras Island and had felt the need to establish specific and objective levels.
The draft ordinance says authorities will first ask that the volume be turned down before considering a citation. But whatever happens, the sheriff’s department won’t be patrolling for offenses or raiding wedding parties.
“Noise ordinances are complaint-driven,” Creef said.
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