CBJ noise ordinance still in the works

Floatplanes are often the source of loud noise downtown near Marine Park. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The assembly is not happy with the draft noise ordinance that would amend the disturbing the peace code.

“It is still in my opinion way too cumbersome and I would argue almost unenforceable the way it’s written, and unrealistic,” said assembly member Jerry Nankervis.

The latest version dictates what times are considered ‘day-time’ hours versus ‘night-time’ hours.

It also defines noise level in terms of decibels, which CBJ attorney Amy Mead says is hard to enforce. She recommends keeping the current code standard, which is defined as a “reasonable person of normal sensitivity.”

“There’s a long and continuous noise that’s going on at 3 am and it’s woken up six neighbors and the officer stands on the street corner and can hear it very loudly coming from this particular house. That’s something that the court and jury can easily understand. You don’t have to prove that this device was tracking the sound properly at the time that the officer wielded it and the officer wielded it properly,” Mead explained.

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said it’s worthwhile to have an objective standard to go with the “reasonable” standard.

“The increase above ambient noise would be the best approach because it keys off what’s going on in the neighborhood. If you live right next to the highway, the increase above ambient noise is going to be louder than if you bought a place on Sleepy Court, which is ably named.”

Kiehl said this will protect neighborhoods at night.

Assembly member Loren Jones wanted to know how an ordinance without decibel levels would define what’s “reasonable” in residential areas with construction noise. He used the example of improvements at Statter Harbor.

“Does this ordinance the way it’s written or the way you’re proposing to write it make a difference in the way the condo association can argue about construction noise versus what the planning commission might do in terms of construction noise?” he asked.

Mead says it’s up to the assembly, “We can define what the standards to be considered when we’re defining what’s unreasonable in any way that we choose to do so.”

But Mead also made it clear when the assembly has little power over certain activities; for example, in the case of barges.

“We have very limited ability to be able to dictate when they can come in and how loud they can be. We just don’t have the authority to do that. We can’t set decibel levels that are different than would be authorized under the very specific and large federal regulatory scheme.”

Mead will make changes to the current disturbing the peace code before bringing it back to the committee of the whole. She says she’ll add a clear objective to the ordinance, which is to prohibit unreasonable noise. Other changes include outlining standards considered “unreasonable”, and adding “ambient noise” as an objective standard.