A proposed change to East Hampton Town’s noise code met resistance last week. Several members of the business community argued that it needs tweaking, while some residents claimed an attempt to consider ambient noise may unintentionally punish those in quieter neighborhoods.
The draft amendment was pitched by the Town Board as a way to more accurately pinpoint noise pollution. It would base noise violations on ambient noise, defined as the “all-encompassing noise level associated with a given environment, being a composite of sounds from all sources, excluding the alleged offensive sound.”
Instead of being issued violations based on hard-and-fast decibel levels, noisemakers would be allowed a certain amount of noise above the benchmark, ambient noise level.
It would also allow noise to be read at a complainant’s property or at least 15 feet away from the source on a public right-of-way, rather than from the property line. It would do away with distinctions between commercial and residential properties.
Sound measured at 7 dB or more above the ambient level from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. would be outlawed, according to the proposed law. From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., sound at 10 dB or more above the ambient level would be prohibited.
Certain exceptions apply—for public fireworks or church bells, for example.
“It’s much simpler than the existing ordinance,” said Town Attorney John Jilnicki prior to a public hearing on Thursday, adding that it gives flexibility so that a business owner in a busy downtown is not penalized for a lot of background noise.
Margaret Turner, the executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance, voiced concerns at the hearing about vague definitions, such as who determines whether a noise has an adverse psychological effect on humans. She also said that a 9 p.m. cutoff time for outdoor loudspeaker music is too early and should be pushed back to 10 p.m.
Montauk Chamber of Commerce executive director Laraine Creegan expressed a feeling echoed by many. She said the law is not ready as is and that the definition of unreasonable noise should be revised. She also took issue with the 15-foot measurement mark, noting that it allows “nuisance complainers” to walk around and lodge complaints.
Debra Foster, a former Town Board member, said she agreed with the business complaints that the proposed law adds confusion and needs tinkering. It also offers no incentive to lower the volume. “It punishes people that are in quiet neighborhoods and rewards people that are cranking it in another neighborhood or in a commercial district,” she said. “I think it’s hurting everyone because there is a continuing vortex of escalating sound … . You are always going to have some decibels above ambient, so let the good times roll!”
Jeff Bragman, an attorney who said Ms. Foster asked him to look at the proposed change, called the current law a good one. He said the new law could penalize people in quiet areas and allow for an escalation of sound as long as the ambient noise is louder. “I call it a ‘battle of the bands’ law because if you have three bands cranking and your ambient noise is up, then the fourth band gets to play even louder,” he said.
Tom MacNiven noted that he likes loud music, but, when at home, prefers peace and quiet. He urged the town to draft a law it could enforce.
“It’s no fun sitting on your deck trying to have a conversation when someone in the neighborhood who’s not there at their house is having their lawn mowed at 7:45,” he said. “I know it’s a short season to make money. It’s a short season to barbecue too.”