A Carroll County noise ordinance will soon be updated after a number of residents complained of excessive noise coming from event venues.
At their meeting on Thursday, the Board of County Commissioners received an overview of the provisions of the current county noise ordinance and decided along with Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees to update language in the document to hand off the responsibility of monitoring noise to the property owner.
For background on the issue, County Attorney Tim Burke shared that the state of Maryland adopted a noise control law in 1974 that was originally enforced by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
“Thirty years later that same legislature defunded the noise control division of that department and graciously handed off that responsibility to local governments,” he said. “Most Maryland jurisdictions enforced current [Code of Maryland Regulations] standards … but some counties adopted their own standards,” including Carroll County.
In 2005 a committee was formed to put together a noise control document and at that time, Burke said, “the noisiest offenders were all-terrain vehicles” in residential areas.
The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office was given the authority of enforcing the ordinance and was supplied with calibrated professional noise control meters.
“Lately that enforcement has not been happening,” Burke said. “The meters have long expired and we don’t have the capacity to enforce decibel levels in the ordinance.”
DeWees said the increased noise complaints have mostly been reported at event venues in residential areas and “some churches with bands that play.”
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, asked what steps are taken when a police officer responds to a noise complaint with DeWees responding that civil process is writing a citation, but his office has never had to go that far.
“We’ve always been able to come in and successfully work with the venues and citizens,” he said.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, asked what happens if the sheriff receives multiple calls about the same venue after mitigation has already been done.
“Criminal prosecution … The bottom line is if you’re disturbing peace … at some point you say ‘you either stop or we’ll charge and arrest you,’ ” DeWees said. “That usually stops it rather quickly.”
He mentioned there was only one incident which occurred several years ago when an individual was arrested for ignoring requests regarding noise.
“Why even have an ordinance?” Wantz asked.
“I think there is validity to the decibel readings … We can direct people to it and stand behind the ordinance,” DeWees stated. “Venues can have some guidance.”
DeWees said new decibel readers would cost the county between $20,000 and $25,000 a year, having to keep the devices up to date and training personnel on how to properly use them.
“It seemed like a little bit of a waste of money to spend annually when I know that we can go out there and mitigate it,” he said.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said the noise complaints mostly come from properties that are agriculturally zoned and have a list of different uses that are allowed.
He suggested commissioners review the conditional uses allowed from zoning and stated that the property owner should be accountable for tracking the amount of noise coming from their site rather than the commissioners or the sheriff’s office.
“If they’re going to have venues that have bands, they’re required to monitor their noise on their property lines and keep a record of noise levels during that event,” Weaver said. “If they have too many complaints their conditional use can be revoked by a zoning administrator.”
He pointed out the county’s liquor board already has this rule.
DeWees agreed the responsibility should be put back on the venues and suggested adding language to the current ordinance to reflect that.
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He said he would work with the county attorney on tightening up the document and arrange an educational tour to allow people they frequently work an opportunity to go over guidelines.