Town Board begins a debate on decibels

08/12/2010 12:00 AM |

“We’re becoming like every other town on Long Island: law, law, law.” That was Southold Town Councilman Chris Talbot’s response Tuesday morning when he got his first look at the town’s first proposed noise ordinance.

“We are becoming like every other town on Long Island because of an erosion of manners,” countered Supervisor Scott Russell, after a summer that’s been marked by public outcry over amplified music at wineries and other venues.

The proposal, which town attorney Martin Finnegan circulated to board members during Tuesday morning’s work session, isn’t intended as a panacea for all noise. It excludes your neighbor’s weed whacker, construction and farm noise, snowblowers, fireworks and municipally sponsored celebrations, focusing instead on amplified music and yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling or singing that can be heard more than 50 feet away from its point of origin.

“If you have a live band that plays within 200 feet of a neighborhood of half-acre lots at 11:30 at night, that’s a problem,” Mr. Russell explained. “Making noise shouldn’t necessarily be an issue. You’ve got to let people make noise.”

He added that the town does not intend to outlaw outdoor music.

The proposal would restrict noise in excess of 65 decibels beyond the noisemaker’s property line between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and would restrict noise to 50 decibels between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Mr. Finnegan said Tuesday that he planned to begin circulating the draft law to town departments for feedback. He said that key elements of the proposal are the decibel limits, which will give the police and code enforcement reference points that can be measured with a sound meter and allow them to enforce the regulation. The draft law specifies a $1,000 fine for violators.

Town board members said that they wanted to make clear to the public that there are certain things the law will not regulate.

“The fire department is exempt. Don’t call me because the fire department responded to an alarm,” said Mr. Russell.

“There’s a lot of public interest in getting something done,” he said. “We’ve discussed noise in the past and there wasn’t support to do something all-encompassing. It’s hard to do. It comes down to regulating manners.”

Mr. Russell said that he hopes to have a public hearing scheduled by Labor Day.

Several residents who had heard about the proposed noise ordinance aired complaints about noise at a new restaurant in Greenport at the town board’s regular meeting Tuesday night.

They said that The Portly Grape, which opened this summer on Route 48 at the former location of The Shady Lady, had had loud outdoor music and movies all season.

“My house is one-third of a mile north and I can hear every nuance of sound coming from The Portly Grape. I was just astounded,” said Victor Brown. “The first thing I thought of was the sound was probably carrying over the vineyards to Peconic Landing.”

Mr. Russell said that he will visit The Portly Grape and encourage its proprietors to be better neighbors.

EThe Town Board has not yet chosen a new date for a code committee meeting originally scheduled for last Thursday, Aug. 5, which was cancelled after Long Island Farm Bureau president Joe Gergela was hospitalized that morning with a heart attack. Mr. Gergela is recovering.

A large number of winery representatives had planned to attend the meeting to work with the town on code-related issues affecting their establishments.

Board members said Tuesday that they are interested in looking at several issues, including the nature of special events allowed on agricultural property and the legality of allowing food at wineries.

“There has to be a distinction between normal operations and events,” said Mr. Finnegan. “The line is blurred and muddy. We can’t agree to turning wineries into restaurants.”

Board members also said that they believed the discussion needed to be expanded to all agricultural property, not just wineries, and that farmers should be included in the discussions.

“I don’t expect to get this completed as fast as dark skies,” said Mr. Russell, referring to new lighting code adopted two weeks ago after more than two years of debate.

Southold Gets Emergency Cash

Mr. Russell announced Tuesday that he had received word that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had agreed the town should collect reimbursements totalling $330,000 for damage to town property during two storms in March. The payment would be a large chunk of the estimated $362,157 cost of damage and cleanup from those storms.

The whole East End suffered a flooding crisis after damage from a storm between March 13 and 15, which was compounded by another serious storm on March 29 and 30. FEMA did not agree until July to include damage from the second storm in its reimbursements.

Southold’s extraordinary expenses in the storms ran the gamut from an emergency dredging of Goldsmith’s Inlet to the grinding of brush from trees that were felled by the storm, to repairs of extensive flood damage in the police station’s basement computer room to pumping of water and the installation of better drainage systems.

“Send Barack a thank-you note,” said Town Board member Al Krupski.

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