2005-11-10 / News

Town Council plans work session on noise control, again

The Town Council will conduct a special meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. at the town library as a work session on the long-standing issues about noise.

The effort to replace an old unenforceable noise ordinance with a new one that satisfies downtown residents who are disturbed by the sounds of boisterous businesses without unconstitutionally muffling merrymakers has been underway since 2001. The Town Council tried to create a new noise ordinance, but it was diverted by other issues, including the two-decade old debate about where to site a new barn.

At that time, the noise concerns clashed with issues over downtown parking, restaurant seating, and zoning concerns associated with liquor-serving facilities, some of which were sources of live or recorded music. Several work sessions were conducted and some draft ordinances scrutinized, only to be pronounced as unworkable as the existing ordinance that virtually says nothing, according to the town solicitors in recent years.

Then town officials bought a decibel measuring device to pinpoint noise levels, assigned the police to gather sound data, and hired a consultant to interpret the data.

Assistant Town Solicitor Carolyn Mannis was assigned to take over the work and she pointed many legal and constitutional defects in the proposed draft ordinance, as recommended by the consultant. Some councilors tried to abandon the project.

President David Long almost agreed, but said he was willing to give it one more effort because so much work had been put into the project, and because noise complaints had continued.

Among difficulties in the last draft, Mannis cited was an exception for church bells, which violated the First Amendment requirement for separation of church and state. She cited exceptions for municipally-licensed activities because that meant that music at restaurants, the very source of noise the town was trying to regulate, would be exempt because the restaurants are licensed by the town.

The attorney said even the monitoring of noise in some situations could raise Fourth Amendment issues about a lack of warrants.

Mannis said that other alternatives to a noise ordinance exist, such as laws against being disorderly, which do not necessarily include a noise level definition. She reported that the noise ordinances in most towns of Rhode Island are unenforceable.

Steve Mecca of Green Lane, a frequent critic of noise generated at the Narragansett Café, reminded the council that the noise levels were established in conjunction with the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

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