Town Board: How loud is too loud?

More than four months after the Southold Town Board first proposed a noise ordinance, it still has not figured out how loud is too loud.

In order to decide if the proposed code’s current daytime limit of 65 decibels makes sense, the Town Board last week agreed to buy a noise meter and take sample readings around town.

“We are in the process of purchasing a noise meter and are unlikely to propose any changes to the noise ordinance until it arrives and the Town Board does some field testing,” Mr. Russell said this week. “It is difficult to legislate noise with decibel levels when we simply do not have a good understanding of what those levels mean to the regular person,” he explained. “We will try to get a much better understanding when we go out to survey the community with this meter and, at that point, the conversation on decibel levels will be meaningful to us as a board.”

At a public hearing on the proposed law in October, speakers said they were unsure how the town would implement and enforce the proposal and whether or not the 65 decibel limit was high enough.

As one speaker at the public hearing noted, the sound of someone practicing the piano is between 60 and 70 decibels. Decibel charts available on the Internet show that the sound of normal conversation is between 60 and 70 decibels and amplified rock music averages around 120 decibels.

The current draft of the noise code would restrict noise to 65 decibels at or beyond the noise-maker’s property line between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Noise outside those hours would not have been allowed to exceed 50 decibels.

The proposal would exempt many incidental noises, including church bells, snowblowers, lawn mowers, agricultural equipment, construction noise and emergency vehicles responding to calls.

Supervisor Scott Russell has said the proposal was not intended to prohibit all noise, but to protect residents from loud amplified music coming from commercial venues close to residential areas.

The trick is knowing how loud that music is by the time it travels to the property line, he said last week.

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