Bel Air town meeting Dec. 3, 2012

Winners of this year's Town of Bel Air Municipal Month Essay Contest are, from left, Martha Schick, second place; Emma Minnis, third place; and Mackenzie Reese, first place. Mayor Ed Hopkins is to their right. All three winners attend The John Carroll School. (Photo courtesy of Laura Stafford, Town, Homestead Publishing / December 3, 2012)

Sound vibrations that cross property lines could be a potential violation of the Town of Bel Air's noise ordinance under legislation approved Monday night by the town commissioners, who introduced another ordinance that would permit food trucks and other mobile vendors in some parts of town.

The noise enforcement change, introduced last month as Ordinance 756-12, was prompted by problems people living in homes near the town's bar district were having with vibrations from music being played, the town's police chief said last month when the revised ordinance was introduced. He said the typical way of measuring noise, the decibel meter, could not account for the impact on nearby residents caused by vibrations.

The new Section E to the existing noise ordinance was enacted by a 5-0 voted after a public hearing during which no one spoke.

The new addition to the law states: "It is unlawful for any person to cause or permit, beyond the property line of a source, vibration of such direct intensity to cause another person to be aware of the vibration by such direct means as sensation of touch or visual observation of moving objects. The observer shall be located at or within the property line of the receiving property when vibration determinations are made."

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The existing noise ordinance sets limits by decibels, a measurement of sound, by the type of zoning district and by either day or night. Those limits are 75 decibels day or night in an industrial zone; 67 decibels by day and 62 by night in a commercial zone; and 65 decibels by day and 55 by night in a residential zone.

Mobile vendors

One amendment proposed to the town's code governing itinerant dealers, peddlers and solicitors will remove a provision that severely restricts mobile vendors, including food trucks, from operating within the town limits.

Sections to be added to the code include where mobile and temporary vendors can operate, including a provision that states in part: "The Department of Planning shall maintain an Itinerant Dealers and Peddlers Map depicting permitted locations dealers and peddlers may conduct business within the Town of Bel Air." A copy of the proposed map was also submitted with Ordinance 757-12, and it basically restricts such operations to the downtown area, away from Main and Bond streets. Residential neighborhoods also would be generally off-limits.

In areas where food trucks and other mobile vendors would be permitted, they could use public parking spaces, so long as they pay the meter rate and observe any time limits.

A public hearing on the ordinance will be held prior to the Jan. 7 town meeting.

"We plan to protect our bricks and mortar restaurants that rely on lunch business," Commissioner David Carey said.

Commissioner Rob Reier inquired of Planning Director Kevin Small how the law would be enforced. Small replied that police officers would have the authority to enforce at the scene and to move a vendor to a proper location, but it would be up to the town's director of administration to issue a municipal infraction violation notice if the law isn't being filed.

Reier asked if a vendor's permit could be revoked, but Small did not explain under what circumstances the law would permit a revocation.

Commissioner Susan Burdette said she would be interested in hearing from members of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance about the proposed law, which is one reason Small recommended the hearing be held next month rather than later this month, to give people affected more time to understand what the town is proposing.

Small said Bel Air Downtown Alliance Director Scott Walker is one of those who initiated the ordinance, although Burdette said she suspects some alliance members might have a different opinion.

One restaurant operator who attended Monday's meeting and spoke briefly during the public comment section of agenda said she doesn't oppose letting food trucks in town, as long as they pay their fair share.

"Bricks and motor restaurants pay a lot greater than a one-time yearly fee," said Bridget Lloyd, the manager at MaGerk's Pub, which was recently named the town's Business of the Year for 2012.

Talking with Small following the meeting, Lloyd pointed out a restaurant like hers pays a considerable amount of money in taxes and has to account for liability insurance and meet other requirements that a mobile vendor won't. She said the annual license fee the town is proposing - $230 - is too low.

Lloyd also said she is concerned how the ordinance will be enforced if a food truck tries to operate where it's not permitted.

The proposed ordinance states that no itinerant dealer, peddler or solicitor may connect to utility services if operating on a public road and that, except when operating on private property, "no itinerant dealer, peddler or solicitor may conduct business within 300 feet of a town or parks and recreation sponsored event without permission of the event coordinator." Those operating on private property would have to secure the written permission of the property owner beforehand.