Officials discover noise ordinance has no teeth  

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PROSPECT — After more than 30 years on the books, officials have found out that the town’s noise ordinance is unenforceable.

Prospect’s “ordinance for providing the reduction or elimination of excessive noise” was adopted in 1987. The ordinance states that “excessive noise must be controlled by the Town of Prospect to protect, preserve, and promote the public health, safety, and welfare.”

At the time the ordinance was adopted, it wasn’t filed with and approved by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is the final step to make a noise ordinance enforceable.

Mayor Robert Chatfield said no one informed the town at the time the ordinance had to be filed with the state.

The town has relied on the ordinance throughout the years to primarily enforce noise levels at house parties with live bands, Chatfield said.

The town’s ordinance spells out the maximum allowed decibel level for noise. A resident recently filed a noise complaint against Senor Pancho’s, a Mexican restaurant on Cheshire Road, saying loud noise was coming from the restaurant past the curfew set in the ordinance.

Chatfield said the town had to buy a new decibel meter to resolve the complaint, and it was discovered the ordinance wasn’t ratified by the state as officials looked more into it.

Chatfield plans to propose a new noise ordinance. The new ordinance will be virtually the same, with the only changes being any references to state statutes that might have changed since the ordinance was adopted, he said.

The ordinance will have to be approved by the Town Council’s Ordinance Subcommittee, go through a public hearing, and be approved by the full Town Council. Once the council has approved it, the town can send it to the DEEP for approval, Chatfield said.

Paul Kritzler, an environmental analyst with DEEP’s mobile source group in the Bureau of Air, said Prospect’s ordinance needed to be approved by the DEEP because it relied on scientific measurements, such as decibel readings.

Other noise ordinances that don’t use scientific measurements don’t have to be approved by DEEP because they fall under the category of a public disturbance, and the department doesn’t judge an ordinance by content, Kritzler said.

In order for an ordinance to be approved by the DEEP, it needs to be at least as stringent as the state’s regulations, Kritzler said.

Under the state’s regulations, noises in residential and business areas are not allowed to be above 80 decibels during the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. and not above 100 decibels at any other time.

Under the town’s ordinance, businesses and residences must keep sound at 55 decibels or less, measured at the edge of the property, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. through 8 p.m. on Sunday. At all other times, the sound must be at 45 decibels or less.

The ordinance and complaint against Senor Pancho’s came up during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s July meeting.

Land Use Inspector Mary Barton said what some people might consider loud or annoying noise is subjective, even with a decibel reader.

“I have been on noise complaints in the past where the noise from the air conditioner that was in the home was louder than the noise they complained about from the band or the traffic on the highway,” Barton said.