August 22, 2012

Commissioners delay action on noise ordinance after public hearing

By CATHERINE KOZAK

The Dare County Board of Commissions delayed action on the proposed changes to the county noise ordinance after a steady stream of about two dozen people came to the microphone to speak against it at a public hearing on Monday, Aug. 20.

They were almost all Hatteras Islanders -- business owners, their employees, contractors, fishermen, musicians, and wedding planners. And they pleaded with Dare County to reconsider its proposal that could technically ban music and loud laughter even during the day.  

All who spoke were opposed to the amendments to the 30- or 40-year-old noise ordinance.
 
Most of the concern is over the acceptable decibel levels that are proposed in the amended ordinance.  Even during the day, the ordinance calls for volumes no greater than 60 decibels, which is about the level of a typical conversation. Even in industrial zones, daytime levels are topped at 70 decibels. 

“The Nags Head Casino would not have been allowed under this noise ordinance,” Bonnie Williams told the board, referring to the historic dance hall that had been across from Jockey’s Ridge.

Noise from construction, fishing industry activities, lawn mowing, off-road vehicles, airplanes, and community and sports events at public places would be exempt.
 
But many of the speakers said such restrictions are not compatible with an economy that serves vacationers.

Fred Sawyer, owner of the Froggy Dog Restaurant in Avon, said that there have numerous noise complaints from a very small number of people since he started having music on an outside deck on Friday nights.
 
“They’re tourists,” he said. “They’re there to have fun.”

The mix of residential and commercial areas on the island makes it a challenge to entertain visitors and give residents some peace, but Sawyer urged the commissioners to be fair to everyone.

Representatives of the booming wedding industry were also worried that a restrictive ordinance could scare away brides.

Kate Pullen, president of the Outer Banks Wedding Association, said that the wedding industry employs about 4,000 people on the Outer Banks. Last year, she said, there were 500 weddings held in unincorporated Dare County, with each one having an average wedding day budget of $27,000. Plus, each wedding has 50-200 guests, who all need to stay, eat and play somewhere.

One viral negative posting about partying noise restrictions on the Internet could equal financial devastation, she said. 

“All this would take is one bride and one groom to put this on Facebook,” Pullen said.

Most speakers agreed the current ordinance on the books should be revised, but they disagreed with the county’s proposal for changes.

Trip Forman, co-owner of REAL Watersports in Waves, even submitted a version for the board to consider that would focus on established quiet times rather than decibel levels.

The board agreed with a number of speakers that it would make sense to sit down with the business community after the busy tourist season calms down and hammer out a more workable alternative to bring back to the board in the fall.

“I think we should bring it back up and straighten it out,” said Commissioner Richard Johnson. “We’re just trying to get something here that makes everybody happy.”
 
Johnson said the current ordinance is too subjective, leaving enforcement up to the whims of whomever objects to the noise.

“Take a look at what you’re operating under now,” he said. “We’re trying to protect you. We’re not trying to shut you down.”


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