Carroll County officials plan to go on the road with their draft of a noise ordinance that arose primarily from homeowners' complaints about the drone of four-wheel all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and other similar off-road vehicles.
The draft ordinance would set quantitative limits such as decibel readings and time frames. It would also assess the quality of noise: whether it is constant, as opposed to a gunshot or sound made by a pile driver, and whether it constitutes pollution that interferes with the enjoyment of homes or businesses.
"The passion that people bring to this is remarkable," said James E. Slater Jr., the Planning Department's deputy director of environment and resource protection, who presented the proposal to the county commissioners. "We're trying to eliminate the conflict."
The draft ordinance sets lower noise levels for "sensitive" areas near facilities such as hospitals, schools, libraries, churches, senior housing and day-care centers.
It includes 18 exceptions - including emergency sirens, agricultural vehicles, trains, entertainment events, pets, skeet shooting, air-conditioning units and normal household maintenance - some under specified daytime hours.
The proposal bans the use of ATVs, dirt bikes, go-carts, snowmobiles and similar off-road vehicles within 300 feet of a neighboring property.
Readings would be taken at the property line, and violations would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by up to $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense within 12 months, and $1,000 for a third violation within that period.
"Noise is a very subtle influence in our lives," Slater said. "It can certainly even have impacts on your health."
Slater served on a committee formed late last year to study the need for a noise law in response to complaints.
Led by Ralph E. Green, director of the Carroll's Department of General Services, the committee included representatives of various county and police agencies.
Carroll has no ordinance controlling noise levels, although existing state law encourages local governments to create them, Slater said.
Much of the proposal is based on the state code, with some modifications for the county's particular needs.
"We'll give you a short presentation on the proposed ordinance before we take it on the road," Green said at a meeting yesterday with county department heads and police officials.
Several presentations on the draft ordinance are to be held around the county, he said. This might result in modifications, and in its final form the proposal still would require a public hearing before approval.
The cost would be minimal, Slater said. Measuring equipment that would be needed to prove a violation would cost $2,500 to $4,000.
"Most of the time, a visit from the Sheriff's Office will cause people to stop what they're doing," Slater said.