Keep it down: Council passes tougher noise rules

Too many decibels: West Asheville resident Pat Dockery tells City Council the proposed noise rules don't go far enough. photo by Max Cooper

Asheville City Council wants the city to chill. To that end, Council members approved stricter noise rules at their Nov. 13 meeting.

The new rules add yelling, shouting, parties or “a loud and raucous sound” to the list of potential violations. They also make it easier for a police officer to issue a citation for noise in a residential area or after 11 p.m.

“If it's done in the day in an industrial district, it's probably not going to be a problem,” Assistant City Attorney Kelly Whitlock explained. “If it's done at nighttime in a residential area, it's much more likely to constitute a noise disturbance.”

Over the past year, Council members and city staff have received complaints from a number of residents concerning noise issues in their area; staff conducted an online survey earlier this year.

West Asheville housewife Pat Dockery, who’s complained about noise in her neighborhood, said the proposal didn't go far enough.

“I have been at many of your meetings urging revision of the noise ordinance, so it's tearfully that I must urge you to send this back to committee,” Dockery told Council. Staff's recommendations contained many errors, she said, including overestimating the cost of using sound-level meters to measure noise. “On the survey we took, there wasn't a question about the decibel level. As much as I would like to see the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. time limit passed tonight, I urge you to send it back to the committee and make the wording much stronger.”

In the past, the city left it up to the police officer at the scene to decide whether a noise complaint was reasonable. The staff report said the cost of buying decibel meters and training officers to use them would be prohibitive. Some other speakers wanted “night” defined as starting earlier: perhaps 10 p.m. or even 7 p.m.

Larry Holt, co-chair of Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors, objected to exempting downtown from the rules for residential areas, citing the growing number of people living in the city's core. “This disregards the mixed-use areas of the city,” he said. “By excluding us, you're discriminating against a large number of residences.”

But Council member (and former downtown resident) Cecil Bothwell maintained that noise is an inevitable part of living in a bustling area featuring restaurants and late-night businesses. “That's the nature of a commercial district,” he observed. “If you move downtown, you're going to get downtown noise.”

Asheville's geography, noted Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer, could also inhibit the city's efforts to curb noise.

“We are in a unique physical situation in Asheville,” said Manheimer. “I can stand on my porch in north Asheville and hear the garbage pickup on Merrimon a half-mile away. The acoustics are strange depending on where you are.”

David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

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