Town continues to grapple with noise ordinance

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Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

With no noise ordinance, authorities are looking at other options to address nuisance issues in the city limits.

Dating back to last June, town officials have been working to develop a noise ordinance within the city limits to address concerns from local residents. During the June meeting, the discussion first began regarding a specific noise complaint near Shaw Industries on Depot Street.

After hearing a proposed draft noise ordinance earlier this month, the town council once against asked town attorney John Henning Jr. to make corrections, leaving the issue on Depot Street and the annoyed residents with few options until the town is able to do more.

Over the weekend, both the county and Franklin Police Department fielded several calls from residents “fed up” with the noise after yet another weekend of late night partying. Because the town has yet to pass a noise ordinance, Macon County Emergency Management Director Warren Cabe said the county is taking a different approach in order to offer residents some relief. As of Monday, Cabe, along with the county’s fire marshal’s office, was looking at the facility in question and occupation limits as a means of addressing the concerns.

According to Franklin Mayor Bob Scott, he, too, once again got several calls, all of which came from the same complainant. Scott said he went to the business to see for himself, and they were having a wedding with large numbers of people, but in terms of excessive noise, it seems to be better than other times he had visited the facility.

Cabe said the facility is legally permitted as a place of assembly, but ensuring they meet the occupancy levels can be something they will monitor.

The storefront located on Depot Street has been doubling as a gathering place for people to party late at night. Complaints have been made to Franklin Police Chief David Adams after midnight for months and both the police chief and the mayor have seen the parties firsthand. To address the issue, Scott directed Franklin Town Attorney John Henning Jr. last spring to draft an ordinance that would allow Franklin police to enforce regulations on the “parties.”

Beginning in June, the town heard the first draft of the ordinance which was then presented as a nuisance ordinance.

The draft ordinance was presented in the form of a police power ordinance to regulate parties or “nuisance gatherings.”  The proposed ordinance would not allow “nuisance gatherings of 10 or more persons in or outdoors between the hours of 12: a.m. to 7 a.m. within 250 feet of an occupied dwelling.” According to Henning, the use of “nuisance gathering” wording rather than “parties” was a better definition as the problem is with the gathering not the reason they are gathered.

Henning’s first attempt to address the issue was met with hesitation from the town council, leading him to draft a noise ordinance rather than a nuisance ordinance like originally planned.

Earlier this month, Henning presented the board with a noise ordinance he carefully constructed after reviewing similar ordinances from Sylva, Hendersonville, and Waynesville. Henning’s new proposal included wording regarding what officers could do if they were called to a noise complaint. Under the draft, a civil fine could be issued to the offenders, and if unpaid, it would become a misdemeanor. Henning says that the town has the ability to change the penalty section, if they want to, in order to give police officers more authority to enforce the ordinance, “There are ordinances that say, ‘This is enforceable either as a civil fine, or if the police want to charge it as a misdemeanor, they have the latitude to do that.’”

Scott reminded the board of what types of gatherings the town was hoping to address with the new law.

“I’m not talking about a family reunion, or a neighborhood get together. I’m talking about these bashes that take place. We’re not talking about little noisy birthday parties, we’re talking about some serious stuff. I saw people dragged to their car the other night at 1 o’clock in the morning, dead drunk with music going wide open. I don’t know that that’s in keeping with what Franklin’s all about.”

After a lengthy debate, council members decided to take another month to review the proposed ordinance, and come back at the next meeting and decide what to do.

Scott then challenged the board to take a close look at it, and decide what they wanted to do, “I’m going to challenge the board. You’ve got a month to study this, and I mean to study it hard and come back with your recommendations, because at some point, I think we’re either going to have to stop worrying about it, or we’re going to have to adopt something.”

While Franklin does not have a noise ordinance, or similar measures in place, both the municipality of Highlands as well as Macon County (outside of the city limits) do. Henning said that neither the Highlands noise ordinance or the Macon County nuisance ordinance was reviewed and used to draft the current Franklin proposal, but with the hesitation of the board, he may visit those documents in the near future for consideration.

The Town of Highlands noise ordinance defines prohibited noises as amplified sounds occurring during specific times during the day. It defines a disturbance as “any sound that annoys, disturbs, injures, or endangers the comfort, health, peace, or safety of reasonable persons of ordinary sensibilities due to its volume level, duration, location and character, provided that such noise is heard upon the public streets, or in any public park, or in or upon the grounds of any school or public building while in use, or in or upon the grounds of any religious, medical, or convalescent facility, while in use, or upon any parking lot open to members of the public as invitees or licensees, or in or upon the grounds of any occupied residential unit which is not the source of the noise.”

Highlands has had a noise ordinance in place for some time, and has proven to be effective, measuring noise levels using decibels with decibel limits for specified times of days. Violating the established decibel limits is considered unlawful.

Macon County officials spent months crafting a nuisance ordinance with the help of the Macon County planning board in 2014-15 and wanted to draft a noise ordinance to specifically address complaints from residents about neighbors who were intentionally making noise in the middle of the night to interrupt their sleep.

The county wanted to get away from measuring noise by decibels and rather constructed a nuisance ordinance which was defined in the planning board’s draft as “loud, unnecessary and disturbing noise” that is intentionally created to disturb someone’s peace.”

 

The county ordinance has been on the books since passed in April 2015 and has also proved to be effective.

“We may yet consider the county’s or Highlands’ ordinances,” said Henning. “I’m finding some very common bonds between them however, and in part, I think that is driven by the language in the enabling statute permitting regulation of noises ‘that tend to annoy, disturb, or frighten’ citizens.  Since the courts have upheld prohibition or regulation of noises falling into that category as constitutional, it seems to be the basic starting point for many ordinances.”

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