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City committee updates noise ordinance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Police will have more authority to handle noise complaints after a committee approved updating the city's ordinance Wednesday night.

The city's current noise ordinance, passed in 2009, does not give police guidelines to explain what type of noise is considered harmful to others, said Councilman Joe Denault, who led a proposed change during a Rules and Ordinances Committee meeting.

If Charleston City Council members adopt the change during a future meeting, it will provide a distance radius for police to enforce the ordinance.

According to the change, no person shall amplify their radio, tape player, television or other "soundmaking device" so that the sound is plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more from their dwelling or vehicle.

Charleston Police Lt. Shawn Williams said it is difficult for officers to explain why someone violated a noise ordinance the way it's currently written.

"The current noise ordinance that we had is sufficient, but it is difficult for officers to explain to a judge who says, 'tell me why and how this person violated the ordinance,'" Williams said. "Now officers can draw from their crash response experience and say, 'I heard the noise from three car lengths away.'"

Also under the current ordinance, it is up to the discretion of the judge to set fines for first-time and repeat noise violators, Denault said. The ordinance directs judges to issue fines not exceeding $500.

The proposed change requires a $100 fine for first-time offenders, a $200 fine for a second offense, a $300 fine for a third offense, a $400 fine for a fourth offense and a $500 fine for a fifth offense.

Denault said he began working to change the ordinance when a woman within his ward complained of loud car stereos near her home on Stewart Street.

The woman is a nurse who lost sleep because of loud music playing at all hours of the night.

"She complained about cars with very loud stereos, not factory-type stereos, but specially installed stereos that would vibrate her windows all hours of the night," Denault said.

Loud vehicles are usually gone from the scene before officers arrive to address noise complaints, Williams said. The new ordinance would allow an officer to pursue a vehicle, even if he hears the loud music from more than 25 feet away, Williams said.

Denault said the change was modeled after similar ordinances in Elkhart, Indiana, a town of about 52,000 people near the University of Notre Dame. That city recently appointed a noise control officer, who issued more than 1,200 tickets in 2009, generating about $273,000 for the city, according to information provided by Denault.

Denault compiled research on how noise pollution affects health. For example, oxygen and nutrient flows slow down for pregnant woman exposed to extremely loud music, according to information Denault provided.

The ordinance provides exemptions for noise generated from emergency vehicles, utility companies, burglar or fire alarms, domestic power tools, lawnmowers, airplanes at Yeager Airport, railroads and city-authorized fireworks, among others. The ordinance also protects church bells and chimes, snow blowers and snowplows and noise generated from sporting events or city-sponsored events and concerts.

The proposed ordinance passed unanimously with council members Rick Burka, Denault, James Ealy, Jack Harrison and Bob White present. Mike Clowser, Chris Dodrill, Courtney Persinger and Tom Lane were absent.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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