The city of Fairhope could consider making changes to its noise ordinance to loosen restrictions on decibel levels for the first time since 2010.
At a recent work session Councilman Rich Mueller asked councilors to consider reverting back to the city’s previous noise rules or updating the current rules adopted in 2010.
The city’s noise ordinance prohibits noise generated by amplifying equipment , whether stationary or mobile, from exceeding 85 decibels from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. and 50 decibels between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The ordinance bans any continuous “loud or raucous” sounds which disturb the peace of a residential district.
The ordinance allows for noises generated by emergency and public work, city authorized activities like parades and festivals, sporting events, noise from the H.L. “Sonny” Callahan Airport, construction sites and any noise generated by the operation of motor vehicles. Repeat violators of the ordinance face fines of $200-$500 and up to six months in jail.
Mayor Tim Kant said residents desiring to host weddings or similar events at their homes are allowed to petition the city for a temporary variance. He said he does not expect the council to take any action on the issue before the end of the year.
City Council President Jack Burrell said Fairhope police possess decibel meters which they can use to measure noise levels, but he is not aware of recent instances where officers used the meters.
Sgt. Craig Sawyer said officers respond to noise complaints on a regular basis and most of the time, when officers inform the person responsible for the noise about complaints they turn it down voluntarily.
“Generally speaking, people here are good neighbors and if they find out they are creating a nuisance, they’ll comply with our request to lower the volume,” Sawyer said.
Mueller suggested removing decibel levels as a measuring stick for non-compliance and said the city could allow officers to decide what constitutes a violation. Allowing that it might be hard to enforce without a specified noise level, Mueller said the city could raise the levels, particularly in designated commercial and tourism zones.
According to Kant, the city’s previous noise ordinance did not include language about decibel levels but those were included in the current regulation on the advice of attorneys, who believed the city needed a verifiable noise limit.
“I think we need some more study on this,” Burrell said. “I’m certainly willing to listen to suggestions from any council members who think we should change the ordinance. I do have some doubts, though.”
According to Sawyer, most residents comply when asked to lower their noise level but some don’t, which is why the city included stricter noise regulations in its ordinance in 2010. He said he did not know of any recent instances where officers had to use the decibel meters.
“We started using the decibel meters thinking it was a fair and impartial way to determine noise levels so that the ordinance could be enforced uniformly,” Sawyer said. “We learned that this wasn’t the best solution because some noise vibrations weren’t detected.”