Although it took no formal vote on the issue, the Planning and Zoning Commission seems generally not enthusiastic about a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance related to noise regulation.
Specifically, commission members are not completely comfortable with the proposal to eliminate the use of a decibel meter in enforcing the regulations.
Development Services Director John Wesley said staff reviewed ordinances from other cities and towns and worked with the Sheriff’s Office, the town prosecutor and town attorney to prepare the revised ordinance. The prosecutor and MCSO Capt. Larry Kratzer both agree the proposed new ordinance should be easier to use and enforce than the existing ordinance, Wesley said.
The main change to the ordinance is removing the specific decibel limits and replacing them with other objective criteria that can be used to determine if the noise coming from an activity is “unnecessary, unusual or unreasonable noise that is excessive, disruptive and/or annoying.”
The main noise complaints received by the town in recent years have been associated with vacation rentals and events that occur at those homes, according to Wesley. He said the current noise ordinance has not been effective in addressing those issues. Staff revisited the current noise ordinance and is proposing modifications that would facilitate the enforcement of noise violations.
The proposed ordinance amendment provides two new definitions, one for “Noise Sensitive Area” (property normally used for sleeping or normally used as a school, church, hospital or public library) and one for “Unruly Gathering.”
The definition for Noise Sensitive Area will help provide protection during the day to residential neighborhoods and the definition for Unruly Gathering will be helpful with enforcement at the vacation homes and in other similar situations where large parties occur.
Additionally, the section of the ordinance that eliminates the current use of the decibel approach creates the new standards. This section of the ordinance establishes five conditions which can be considered noise violations if they occur during specific times. These are:
*Causing or allowing any noise by using, operating or permitting to be played any electronic music device, television, amplifier, musical instrument, or instrument, machine or device used for the production, reproduction or emission of sound.
*Causing or allowing any noise in connection with the loading or unloading or operation of any vehicle.
*Using, or allowing use, of landscape maintenance equipment prior to 5 a.m.
*Using or allowing use of hand or power tools or any other machinery or equipment not otherwise permitted in the town code.
*Participating in or allowing any malicious or willful shouting, yelling, screaming, or any other form of raucous vocalization by a person or group of people.
During the hours between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., these conditions can be found to be a violation if they:
*Produce any excessive, disruptive and/or annoying noise, which is clearly audible from a distance of 200 feet or further from the sound source; and
b. Are continuous or intermittent for a period of at least 15 minutes; and
c. Disturb the peace and quiet of a neighborhood or a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.
During the hours between 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. these conditions can be found to be a violation in noise sensitive areas if they meet the criteria above and disturb the peace of a neighborhood or a minimum of any two or more persons not occupying the same residence or physical location and are not exempted in this or any other town code or ordinance.
Section D of the ordinance discusses Prohibited Noise and states, “It is unlawful for any person to make, allow, enable or create excessive noise, which disturbs the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family, or reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities. For purposes of this subsection, the determination of prohibited noise shall be made based upon the circumstances existing at the time and place of the violation and the standards established in section 11-1-7(c). For determining that noise is prohibited under this section, a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities may include any Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy or other town employees designated by the town manager to enforce this section.”
Section E of the ordinance addresses unruly gatherings and states, “A peace officer may abate an unruly gathering by reasonable means including, but not limited to, citation and/or order dispersal of the persons attending the gathering.”