Keep the decibels down. In fact, keep them out of the county’s noise ordinance altogether.
“Decibel-based ordinances are not effectively enforceable,” announced Reorganizing Commission member Charlie Mann at the Aug. 15 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting. The commission was charged with reviewing the county’s noise ordinance, which requires sheriff’s deputies to measure decibel levels emanating from noise sources — such as boom-box radios — and to fine loud offenders accordingly. “A competent lawyer will tear apart … decibel-based ordinances because they’re so subjective,” said Mann, who proclaimed the county’s existing ordinance unenforceable.
Mann urged commissioners to consider revising the current ordinance by eliminating the decibel standards altogether and making violations a civil offense, not a criminal one. He said the city of Asheville took more than two years to rewrite its noise ordinance, in which the decibel standards were dropped and criminal prosecution was replaced by a system of civil fines. He also said city officials had found that no district attorney wanted to prosecute under the old ordinance.
Mann also noted that the Reorganizing Commission “didn’t have [two years] to spend” on the noise ordinance, so they copied a Greensboro ordinance that describes 16 types of noise and defines noise that is considered “unreasonably loud,” “disturbing,” and “unnecessary.” The eight-member commission was charged in 1989 with reviewing the effectiveness of county government and recommending changes as needed. Said Mann, “We look strictly at the structural [aspects of government], not the political, like the siting of the landfill.”
“Walk us through an example [of enforcing the new ordinance],” requested Chairman Tom Sobol, who said that most of the noise-related calls that commissioners receive are barking-dog complaints.
Mann replied that the new ordinance would be complaint driven: if someone calls the sheriff’s department to complain about loud noise, a deputy will investigate and, if warranted, write the offender a citation. The fine for a first-time offense can be up to $100. No criminal prosecution is involved. “Levy a fine, turn it over to a collection agency, and move on,” said Mann., adding that appeals can be made to the sheriff.
County Attorney Joe Connolly agreed with Mann’s assessment of the existing ordinance as unenforceable. “Let’s take the Saturday party Charlie has at his house [as an example],” Connolly offered jokingly, adding, “Charlie says [that party] was a few years ago.” He then continued with the hypothetical situation: “Charlie has a scanner because [neighbors] have called the law on him before. He sees the police coming and turns down the noise.” In that all-too-common situation, Connolly concluded, deputies can’t enforce a decibel-based ordinance.
Candler resident George Stevens and his neighbors, who have had trouble dealing with a noisy neighbor this summer, tossed in their support for the revised ordinance. The revision offered by Mann puts “some teeth into the ordinance,” said Stevens, but he urged stiffer fines. The draft language says that first-time fines can be “up to” $100. “If it were up to me,” Stevens declared, “it would be a $500 fine on the first call.”
Commissioner David Gantt considered Stevens’ point and questioned leaving the amount of the fine up to the responding deputy’s discretion (not to exceed $100). Sobol replied, “We need to set the fines, rather than leaving it to the discretion of [deputies].”
County watchdog Don Yelton urged commissioners to “be very careful” in making changes to the noise ordinance. He also pointed out potential loopholes in the proposed revision: While an individual citizen can’t blast away on a loudspeaker that can be heard more than 150 feet away, announcers at county ball fields can. Yelton also questioned the definition of “unreasonably loud” and “disturbing” noises: “I’m not trying to be impertinent, [but] if I broke wind right now, very loudly, you could cite me.”
Another county watchdog, Jerry Rice, took issue with an additional potential problem with the proposed revisions. While burglar and car alarms are exempted because they fall under the “emergency” category, a barking dog used for the same purposes as a burglar alarm could get the owner cited for violating the ordinance.
Vice Chair Patsy Keever conceded that noise issues are complex, but said a dog could bark every time someone walks by, whether that person intends to cause harm or not.
“This is not an exact science,” Connolly concluded, pointing out that a noise ordinance merely provides a set of standards for law enforcement. He said he will review the proposed revision and bring it back for commissioners’ consideration at an upcoming public hearing.
No action was taken, and the public hearing has not yet been scheduled.
All aboard for New York City
What does it take to convince an airline to provide Asheville with nonstop flights to New York City?
“They need to know what the business community will do to support the service,” Asheville Airport Marketing Director Kathryn Solee told commissioners. In short, a prospective airline needs local businesses to “pledge” passengers.
Solee gave a brief presentation to commissioners at the Aug. 15 meeting, urging their support in convincing local businesses to make that pledge. Existing flights to New York City from Asheville can take more than five hours, including layovers in cities such as Cincinnati or Charlotte. Solee said a nonstop flight would cut the time to less than two hours and would possibly reduce the costs of other flights.
The Airport Authority has sent out pledge requests to more than 200 businesses “we know … are already traveling to New York,” said Solee. So far, 26 have signed the pledges. Commissioners could help drum up support, she suggested.
Commissioner David Young recommended that the Board of Commissioners adopt a resolution in support of the effort on Sept. 12, the date of their next regular meeting. No other action was taken regarding Solee’s report.
Money for Hasco expansion
County commissioners approved a $45,000 economic-incentive grant for Hasco Inc., which makes the steel molds used for plastics such as Motorola cell phones.
The company opened a facility in Buncombe County more than a year ago and employs 25 people, Vice President David Klein told commissioners. The county grant will help fund employee development and equipment purchases for a $1 million expansion. Hasco officials plan to employ a total of 48 employees by the end of this year, Cline reported.
With no objections from commissioners, Vice Chair Patsy Keever made a motion to approve the grant. Seconded by Bill Stanley, the motion passed 5-0.