Noise code creates a din

Local business interests laud a compromise, but others aren’t sold.

The City Council clapped their ears Wednesday and again pushed discussion on changing the city’s noise ordinance to a later date.

The contentious ordinance, which regulates excessive noise and public disturbances, has lately pitted downtown residents wanting a good night’s rest against stores and restaurants trying to conduct everyday business.

Some Winslow residents want early morning delivery trucks and nighttime revelry silenced. Business leaders, on the other hand, say residents living in the island’s commercial core must accommodate a bit of bustle.

“A good compromise has been made,” said Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce Director Kevin Dwyer of the proposed changes to the ordinance. “It keeps business flowing on Bainbridge Island.”

But some councilors say the draft changes are ambiguous and too restrictive.

“It creates too much opportunity for confusion,” said Councilman Nezam Tooloee, who favors the current ordinance, which sets a decibel limitation on sound.

But police say they can’t enforce the current rules. Officers lack the equipment and training for measuring decibels, police officials said.

And, in many cases, a loud party or delivery truck no longer exhibit excessive noise when police arrive, making citation difficult.

“It’s unenforceable,” said Councilman Bill Knobloch. “We’ve tried it.”

In response, the city early this year proposed restricting certain activities – such as yelling in public streets, the use of horns, or frequent and repetitive sounds associated with vehicles – during late night and early morning hours. But businesses and service providers protested, arguing that such a rule would halt garbage pickup and many deliveries.

The council’s Community Relations Committee then proposed exceptions for the U.S. Postal Service, disposal and recycling companies and most the delivery of goods to licensed businesses.

While these changes made many business owners happy, Councilwoman Debbie Vancil objected, arguing that the ordinance would still restrict behavior during certain hours rather than noise. Instead, Vancil believes the ordinance should prohibit “exceptionally” disturbing noise.

That’s a rule Bainbridge Deputy Police Chief Mark Duncan says he can enforce.

“We all know what’s reasonable and unreasonable,” he said to the council.

“If we hear people talking at a restaurant at normal business hours, that’s probably ‘reasonable.’ If it’s 4 a.m. and someone can’t sleep and noise is rattling their windows - that’s probably ‘unreasonable.’”

But Tooloee urged the council to steer clear of regulations that don’t have quantifiable guidelines. Such approaches, he said, already frustrate many land owners attempting to interpret city land use codes.

“We don’t need to create more ordinances with that kind of ambiguity,” he said.

Tooloee believes police should ratchet up efforts to use decibel measurement devices.

“I don’t find (it) credible” that the police “don’t have noise meters,” he said. “My neighbor has a noise meter.”

Noting that the versions of the amended measure had come before the council up to three times already, City Administrator Mary Jo Briggs questioned whether it “has a future.” She also stressed the burden on city staff who must research and redraft the ordinance each time proposed changes are requested by the council.

Councilman Kjell Stoknes then urged the council to move the ordinance along.

“I don’t want to take anymore of (city staff’s) time,” he said. “Let’s get something on the books and try it.”

Tooloee strongly disagreed.

“It’s as though we’re saying ‘we can’t have a good law but heck, let’s enact a bad law so we have it out of our hair,” he said.

The council, by a five to two vote, decided to discuss the matter again in late June.

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