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Proposed Berkeley County noise law to get public hearing

August 24, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Any person in Berkeley County who disturbs the peace and "quietude of others" in a residential housing area could be fined up to $500 for a first offense and up to a $1,000 if found guilty a second time under a proposed noise ordinance being considered by county leaders.

A public hearing for the proposed legislation was scheduled for Sept. 6 by the Berkeley County Commission in response to a recent complaint by a southern Berkeley County resident, Commission President Steven C. Teufel said.

The proposal generally exempts lawful hunting, target shooting, motor racing facilities, agricultural operations and businesses, athletic facilities, sporting events, lawnmowers, safety signals, warning/emergency devices, school bells, church bells and chimes, among other specified noise emitters.

It does not specify a measurement for a law enforcement officer to use to determine whether the amount of noise being emitted is a nuisance, and Berkeley County Sheriff W. Randy Smith said Thursday that he had no input in drafting the proposal.

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Smith said his deputies do not have meters to measure noise like other law enforcement agencies who enforce noise laws.

Norwood Bentley III, Berkeley County's director of legal services, acknowledged the proposed language forms a "subjective standard" for enforcing the law.

"I willingly admit that," Bentley said.

As written, the ordinance proposes that any person who persists in disturbing the peace and quietude of others in residential housing after being requested to desist by a law enforcement officer is guilty of causing and maintaining a nuisance, a misdemeanor.

Residential housing includes nursing homes, hospitals, dormitories, motels and traditional one- and two-bedroom housing, according to the ordinance.

The minimum fine for the first offense citation would be $250, but would be doubled for the second offense conviction.

Specific decibel ranges outlined in a 2005 noise ordinance proposal were left out because Bentley said officials felt it would be easier to enforce. Bentley said the 2005 ordinance was shelved because it created zoning-like decibel-level districts.

The 2005 ordinance only fined violators of the rule up to $100 for the first offense. A draft of the ordinance before that capped fines at $250, according to previously reported accounts.

The scrapped proposal prohibited noise levels above 60 decibels for residential areas, 65 decibels at commercial businesses and in offices, and noise levels above 70 decibels produced by industrial companies.

The acceptable levels were to be lowered by 5 decibels at night.

Sixty decibels is equivalent to the sound produced by conversation in a restaurant or background music, while a vacuum cleaner produces noise levels of around 70 decibels, according to information on Temple University's Web site.

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