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Sssshhh! Noise ordinance OK

The new law gives police better tools to define and correct public disturbances.

The City Council on Wednesday struck a compromise between sleepers and shop owners at odds over noise.

After months of debate, the council unanimously approved new rules regulating “unreasonable” noise and nuisances.

The rules give police a measure of discretion in deciding what does and does not constitute a “public disturbance.” The changes run parallel with existing regulations that set a quantifiable, decibel-based limit on sound.

“I’m glad the council passed this,” said Bainbridge Island Police Chief Matt Haney on Friday. “It’s more enforceable. We already have a noise ordinance, but what this covers is different. This covers public nuisances.”

The previous ordinance, Haney said, is applicable to a narrow set of scenarios where a steady level of loud noise that violates a certain decibel level can be witnessed and verified by police.

“Like with construction noise or when someone’s building a garage at six in the morning and his neighbors aren’t sleeping,” Haney said.

The new rules will apply to “neighborhood disputes” and other issues in which noise levels may be difficult to quantify, such as bursts of late-night yelling or blaring music that is silenced before police arrive.

As an example, Haney offered the recent case of a resident blasting stereo speakers toward a neighbor in retaliation for a perceived slight.

In this case, officers could discuss the dispute with the neighbors and possibly judge the boom box reprisals as “unreasonable.”

Jeff Waite, owner of the Harbour Public House, gave the new rules a lukewarm endorsement.

“I won’t have to go to any more (city) meetings, so that’s good,” said Waite, who has tracked the issue for over three years after condo dwellers near his pub complained about noise. “I trust that the police will make good decisions, but they’re like any other government agency. If they get call after call they’ll end up doing something whether it’s correct or not.”

Violators of the new rules could receive a $250 fine. A two-time offender could get slapped with a $500 penalty and 90 days in jail. Haney doubts his officers will be handing out many violations.

“This is not a high crime issue on the island,” he said. “But when it does come up, now we have a tool.”

Waite warned that the new rules could be abused in disputes that may have nothing to do with noise.

“It could be used as a harassment tool” between neighbors, he said.

Passage caps months of debate between downtown business owners and some Winslow residents who say late -night revelry and early morning truck deliveries are stealing their peace.

The council avoided a prohibition on deliveries during certain hours after businesses, the U.S. Postal Service and Bainbridge Disposal said such a measure would halt or greatly impede their services.

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