Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2006

Noise limits trouble council

Proposal sent back for rewrite

March 2, 2006

City prosecutor Catalina Thompson will go back to the drawing board to write a proposed noise ordinance for Lansing.

Mayor Kenneth Bernard directed Thompson to rewrite the proposed ordinance at a City Council work session that produced a lot of noise by council members but little consensus about the issue.

Some council members said the decibel levels that would exceed limits were too quiet. Questions were raised about running off developers if limits were placed on noise at construction sites. Still other concerns were lodged about whether the proposal should be limited to complaint-driven noise problems or what times of the day the ordinance should be enforced.

"We're looking for direction, but it's all over the board right now," City Administrator Mike Smith told council members during their discussion Thursday, Feb. 27.

At one point, a majority of members said they wanted an ordinance that could be enforced only if a complaint were made to police or city inspectors.

That drew a note of caution from Greg Robinson, the city attorney, who said such an ordinance would take away discretion from enforcers and lead to uneven enforcement depending on what part of the city the noise took place and what kind of complaints the noise generated.

"You need some kind of discretion in the ordinance," he said.

Added Council member Andi Pawlowski, "The code enforcement officer or police officer might find something on their own" that was disturbing the peace.

Council member Billy Blackwell worried the noise levels contained in the ordinance were such that they would prove problematic.

"The decibel levels are too low," he said. "I can't vacuum my car under this ordinance."

The proposal discussed Thursday requires most of the noises to meet a threshold of at least 55 decibels overnight or 60 decibels during the day in residential areas to trigger an infraction.

A dishwasher can reach a level of 60 decibels, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Pawlowski said the complaints she fielded most frequently were related to early-morning construction.

"My biggest complaint now is houses being built at 5 a.m.," she said.

Council member Robert Ulin said he didn't want any ordinance to impede growth in Lansing.

He noted, for instance, that a couple of years ago he could hear heavy machinery at his house on Meadow Court when work was being done on Lansing Heights on West Mary Street.

The noise, he said, "is the cost of economic development. Earth movers are going to make noise."

Thompson patterned her proposal on Overland Park's noise ordinance. The impetus for the proposal was a dispute between two West Lois Street neighbors, one of whom has a go-kart track behind his house.

Ironically, during the discussion, the go-kart track owner, Kenny McCullough, offered to place mufflers on his go-karts if the move would stop complaints against him.

Bernard thanked McCullough for his offer, but noted, "This is still an issue. It's bigger than you."

Among Thompson's charges are to craft a new proposed noise ordinance that is flexible with the times the noise limits would be enforced, would include a section for waivers and an application process for those seeking waivers.

How noisy is noisy?

Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB). The higher the decibel level, the louder the noise. Sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered potentially hazardous.

The noise chart below gives an idea of average decibel levels for everyday sounds around you.


150 dB: rock music peak

140 dB: firearms, air raid siren, jet engine

130 dB: jackhammer

120 dB: jet plane take-off, amplified rock music at 4-6 feet, car stereo, band practice

Extremely loud

110 dB: rock music, model airplane

106 dB: timpani and bass drum rolls

100 dB: snowmobile, chain saw, pneumatic drill

90 dB: lawnmower, shop tools, truck traffic, subway

Very loud

80 dB: alarm clock, busy street

70 dB: busy traffic, vacuum cleaner

60 dB: conversation, dishwasher


50 dB: moderate rainfall

40 dB: quiet room


30 dB: whisper, quiet library

- Source: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association


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