January 6, 2009

Noise about Noise, Dare County style

Monday night the Dare County Planning Board will consider one of the worst ordinances I have had the displeasure of reading. The change would allow “ The operation of any recreational motorized vehicle including motorcycles, go-karts, all-terrain vehicles, dune buggies, or other similar motorized vehicles” during daylight hours on any lot in unincorporated Dare County. Further it would allow the use to generate noise at a volume the EPA says may cause hearing damage with extended exposure. The Planning Board will consider the ordinance without every having been exposed to level of noise they are considering. What's more the ordinance probably won't solve the very problem it was created to solve.
The draft rule stems from a neighborhood dispute on the north end of Roanoke Island. Neighborhood kids have long ridden dirt bikes in the are but the use increased dramatically when “fill” was added to 4 lots and shaped into a track with ramps and jumps. Neighbors complained to the DC Sheriff but the deputies decided the activity didn't violate the vague standards of Dare County's noise ordinance (more on this later). The neighbors carried their complaint to the Dare Board of Commissioners. The board told staff to draft an ordinance to fix the problem.
Fix in this case meant to make sure that the activity as allowed to continue. Comm. Alan Burris and Richard Johnson felt that the activities were, in fact, traditional activities in rural (my term not theirs) Dare. They felt that this type of activity, along with keeping horses and working on cars and boats, should not be regulated away as the county developed. From that came the abomination called “Ancillary Residential Uses”, amendment the zoning ordinance that allows all the activities listed above on any zoning district in DC.
What's wrong with a couple of kids on dirt bikes you ask. Lets find out:
  • Noise level: Sound pressure levels (noise level) ranging form 81 to 94 decibels are allowed in the rule. To put that in perspective the state of Colorado caps noise from train rights of way at 80 db. 81 db is the equivalent of standing 30 ft from the bypass on a busy summer day. Imagine enjoying your deck with this racket going on next door.
  • How loud is really allowed: The 81 + db limits are really the limits. You see the ordinance requires that sound be measured 25 ft from the property line. Since the use can occur right up to the lot lines of the lot in question this means 25 ft onto neighboring property. I am not a sound engineer but that means the noise will be more intense at the property line so the limits aren't really the limits at all.
  • Zoning Districts: The ordinance allows the uses in any district this includes some envirnomentally sensitive districts and recently zoned areas where the community has been intimately involved in drafting the zoning code. How will they react to this intrusive uee.
  • It won't work: Ironically the ordinance won't even solve the problem it was drafted to address. The proposed language includes a requirement that the use be :”private property only in association with a residential structure”. You can't ride on a vacant lot. Well guess where the problem is – on vacant lots.
Now the rest of the story, the County's noise ordinance prohibits Noise Disturbance which is defined as:
Any sound which endangers or injures the safety or health of humans or animals, or annoys or disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensitivities, or endangers or injures personal or real property.
It goes on to state that:
No person shall operate a motor vehicle, motorcycle or motorboat which causes noise disturbance across a real property boundary, within a noise sensitive zone or on a public right-of-way, public space or public waterway as a result of:
1. A defective or modified exhaust system;
2. Any unreasonably rapid acceleration, deceleration, engine revving or tire squealing; or
3. Overloading or ill-repair which causes unusually excessive grating, grinding, rattling or other noise
[All emphasis added]
A reasonable person might think that continued exposure to sound pressure levels that can damage their hearing is banned under this ordinance but apparently Planning Staff doesn't see the contradiction between banning bothersome noise on one hand and allowing it on the other. The Planning Board decided at an earlier meeting not to have a demonstration of the noise levels permitted under the plan so they don't have to deal with the contradiction either.
Now for the bad news. The sound levels in the Dare draft are based on a Nags Head ordinance that I voted for about 18 years ago. how about that. The rule has never come into play in Nags Head but our more stringent general noise rules get enforced regularly. The town rule sets specific limits for residential and commercial zones. It works pretty well. Much better than the rules similar to DC's that it replaced.
Second problem. I agree with Richard and Alan that the old practices should be protected. I fought to keep pit fires and dogs on the beach. Both activities that generated complaints like the one the began the Dare County fiasco. However the proposed Dare County rule goes too far in allowing intrusive activities both in terms of how (loud) and where. Dogs require a leash, pit fires require a permit, motorcycles require reasonable limits as well.
Expect a dust up if the current ordinance gets to the BOC in its current form. There should be a lot of people alarmed about what might be coming to a neighborhood near them. If they aren't upset now they will be when the hear (about) it.


At 1:09 AM, Blogger dukestarco said...

I tend to agree with you on this but I did have to chuckle when I read the paragraph about the planning board.

"The Planning Board will consider the ordinance without every having been exposed to level of noise they are considering. What's more the ordinance probably won't solve the very problem it was created to solve."

Most Planning Board members (and most town council members) are never exposed to anything they are ruling on. They rarely have planning or zoning experience and have no knowledge of what they are voting on. A perfect example is the Southern Shores large home ordinance passed in 2001 increasing the side yard setback. They were warned but were so hell bent to slow growth and shrink house sizes that they trampled over their citizens rights. What they did was make 78% of the homes in their town non-conforming. Now a new board is trying straighten out the mess so that people can remodel their homes. Nags Head seemed to do something similar with their architectural guidlines. If that wasn't bad enough, now they are trying to change the commercial guidelines again. So far there have been no unforseen problems especially if you don't have a problem with the Town taking away your property rights to choose the type of home you want to build.

So now that the building industry has come to a complete stop, who will the no growth lobby of the public citizenry blame for the increase in taxes and the loss of services. Will they complain about the loss of property value since the perceived value of the dormers, green roofs, cedar shake siding and wraparound porches are not worth what they once were.
There is always unintended consequences. Some just take a little more time to develop.

But I do think that once an area does become developed, it is not a place for motorbikes, go carts etc, Everyone should be entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their property. Duke Starco

At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Gail Hutchison said...

Please check out the OB Sentinel today 1/7/09. Thank you, Sandy Sieman and Bob!!!

Oh, the shame of it all..

Dare County commissioners' instructions for the Dare County Planning Board to consider an amendment aimed at allowing tracks for recreational motorized vehicles in residential neighborhoods is not just misguided but an insult to all who have worked so diligently to acquire zoning to protect their neighborhoods and insure a reasonable quality of life.

Making it even more offensive is the fact that the issue was brought to the table because of the actions of a commissioner's brother who has put such a track on north Roanoke Island, much to the distress of the neighboring property owners.

Zoning has been pushed throughout the county as a way for communities to control the type of development that impacts the value of their homes and the quality of their lives. To arbitrarily amend zoning to satisfy the wishes of a few while ignoring the pleas of the many negates the intended purpose of zoning. The proposed amendment to be considered by the Planning Board on Jan. 12, if adopted by the county, would deem operation of recreational motorized vehicles, individual or in a group, including motorcycles, go-karts, all-terrain vehicles, dune buggies, or other similar motorized vehicles for non-commercial purposes as an "ancillary residential use." Conditions would include stipulations that sound levels not exceed the maximum permisible for motorcycles measured 25 feet from the boundary of any private property. Forget that 25 feet from a property line would actually be inside some homes, the maximum decibel level is set at 81 for speeds of 35 miles per hour and 85 decibels for higher than 35. The proposed amendment would restrict the operation of such vehicles so that they could not be used from 6 p.m. until 10 a.m. except during daylight savings time when they could operate until 8 p.m. at night. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLHA), both the amount of noise and the length of time exposed to it determines its ability to damage hearing. Sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered potentially hazardous and ASLHA compares 80 decibels to the sound of an alarm clock. Imagine listening to the alarm go off for two or three hours while trying to read a book, talk to a friend, host an outdoor party or perhaps even trying to show a home to potential buyers.

Another part of the same proposed amendment would allow up to three horses per parcel in residential areas. If residents of particular zoned areas wish to request that their community be allowed this, then it should be on a community-by-community basis and not a blanket amendment that pertains to all zoned areas. One certainly has to wonder where this one came from and who it will please, eh?

And yet another provision in the same proposal would allow up to three motor vehicles, boats or other equipment that is the personal property of the property owner or tenant to be placed on the property while it awaits restoration and/or repair. This is opening the door for junk vehicles to remain for years as eyesores -- all the owner has to say is that someday, they will work on it. Again, this should be up to the residents of individually zoned communities to ask for, not just thrust upon them. Time for this proposed amendment to disappear; if it goes forward, each and every commissioner should commit to having a race track on one side of their home, three broken down cars on the other side, and, of course, three horses and their poop on the lot behind. Now that would justice.


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