A look at developing a noise ordinance for all of Cumberland County drew the attention of the county commission’s Environmental Committee last week.
Action was postponed to later dates.
The noise ordinance proposal drew the most attention at the Nov. 5 meeting, although there is no actual plan in place.
After much discussion and random input from those in the audience, a motion to table for one month discussions on whether the county wants to pursue a local law was approved. It appears the committee lacks the support to forward a plan for full commission consideration and a vote.
The noise ordinance has been a topic discussed for the past couple of months after complaints from residents on Sawmill Rd. in the Homesteads community were received.
Source of the concern was a new property owner building a rough trail bike race course for the use of himself and his friends near long-time residents in the national historic district.
Those attending last week were allowed to speak but did not identify themselves for the record. One resident told the committee that neighbors did visit the owner of the race course but left with no commitment to discontinue the track’s use.
That citizen told the committee the resident has not raced since, “but that doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future.”
Tex Rice in August told the Chronicle he built the track for practice use with family and friends and has used it once with a friend for about 20 minutes. He did not anticipate complaints from neighbors.
In response, neighbors sought help for regulating the noise from the county commission but were referred to the Cumberland County Health and Standards Board. That board has no jurisdiction over such matters and the issue was referred to the commission and finally fell in the laps of members of the Environmental Committee.
The idea of some kind of noise regulation stirred up emotions. It has pitted neighbors against each other over the issue of property rights versus what is good for the community as a whole.
Commissioner Nancy Hyder noted that discussions in the community “kind of got out of hand.” The discussions were of a general nature, Hyder said, and were not targeting the race track.
Commissioner Rebecca Stone explained she was interested in looking into an ordinance that would be “going for that intolerable level” with the burden of proof lying with the complaining property owner.
Documentation of setting excessive decibels of noise, time of day and frequency would be included in the standard of proof.
Several opponents expressed the opinion that relief is already in place through civil court action. Devaluation of property values and chronic nuisances could be pursued through lawsuits.
Proponents, however, said the public ordinance is needed because many are retirees living on fixed incomes who could not afford the cost of litigation. There is no guarantee a judge would order the losing side to pay court costs in such suits.
Commissioner Kyle Davis, who does not sit on the committee, cautioned the panel that whatever action is taken about the complaint in the Homesteads “affects the whole county.”
One Tansi resident complained about a chronic noise issue day and night that exists between himself and one neighbor.
The one thing all seemed to agree on is that if all residents respected their neighbors, the issue would not have to be discussed. They were indicating it involves give and take on both sides.
Stone pointed out that state law already has a large list of businesses and situations that are exempt from noise ordinances. She said she suspected the number of complaints that would actually go to court using a noise ordinance would be miniscule.
“We’re not punishing people, that is not our intent,” said Commissioner John Patterson. “We are just trying to set standards.”
A motion was made to table discussion on developing a noise ordinance plan until the December meeting of the committee.
Voting in favor of tabling the discussion were Commissioners Sue York, Nancy Hyder, Wendell Wilson, Patterson and Stone. Voting against any further discussion were David Gibson, Jack Davis, Jerry Cooper and Jim Blalock.
“I really sympathize with the residents on Sawmill Rd.,” Wilson said. “I know a lot of them. But, I am a property owner, too, and I am voting to further discuss this next month. If it comes to a vote, I will vote no (on a noise ordinance).”