Greenfield mayor vetoes noise ordinance
Says it is unenforceable, subjective
GREENFIELD — A noise ordinance recently passed by the Town Council, which left some town leaders squawking about the way it was written, has been vetoed by the mayor.
The new noise ordinance that passed with an 8-3 vote in June may be gone before it ever had a chance to be enforced.
Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh said recently that he is afraid the ordinance, which uses a subjective measurement of noise, not an actual measurement in decibels, is too broad and would be difficult to enforce because it has the potential to be interpreted many different ways by many different people.
Mayor William Martin said he vetoed the ordinance because it is too broad, too vague and too nonspecific.
“It is subject to multiple interpretations,” said Martin. “The language is too general. What would happen if Kennametal made too much noise near the hospital or setup crews made too much noise on Beacon Field the night before the fireworks? Those instances could be subject to the ordinance.”
Martin said not only does he have a lot of concerns, but does not think a $50 fine is going to work.
“I think it will be an exercise in frustration for the town,” he said. “This ordinance is not helpful and it opens the door for more neighbor-to-neighbor arguments.”
The council will now have up to 30 days to vote to override the mayor’s veto. If a motion is made to do so, it doesn’t seem it will have the votes, because an override would need the votes of nine of the 13 councilors.
On July 1, the council will reorganize and two of its members, President Mark Wisnewski and Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer, will leave. Both supported the noise ordinance.
Isaac Mass and Penny Ricketts will take their seats respectively and they both said Thursday they will vote to sustain the mayor’s veto.
“There’s a lot more work that needs to be done on that ordinance,” said Ricketts.
Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis, Precinct 4 Councilor Steven Ronhave and Precinct 7 Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud all voted “no” to the noise ordinance in the final vote and there is no indication that any of them would change their minds.
The new ordinance forbids anyone from creating “plainly audible” sound, including music, yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling and singing within 50 feet of others between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Allis said he is concerned that the ordinance would prevent residents from having a one-time graduation party, for instance, if a neighbor didn’t like the noise.
He said there is no mechanism in Greenfield that allows something like that to be exempted or permitted.
While the authors of the ordinance have been criticized for being too vague, Town Council Vice President Hillary Hoffman, who was one of the authors, said it was fashioned after the one in Worcester.
“We were looking for a baseline quality-of-life standard,” said Hoffman. “We are hoping this encourages neighbors to get along and act politely.”
But skeptics say they believe the ordinance could do just the opposite and encourage neighbors who already don’t get along to start reporting each other over every little noise.
And because the new ordinance does not use decibels to measure sound, but instead uses distance, it becomes an issue of how much sound each individual can tolerate and that can lead to unfairness, said the police chief and other town leaders.
Haigh said the ordinance as written leaves the door open for some to be fined while others will get away with the same exact offense just because one neighbor tolerates noise better than another.
The ordinance also forbids anyone from using a power saw, drill, grinder, lawn mower, leaf blower, lawn or garden tool or similar tool between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. on Sunday.
Haigh said police already respond to many noise and disturbance calls and typically speak to the person or people being accused of making the noise. Police return if the noise doesn’t stop and someone is reported a second time.
He said a second visit can lead to a citation or an arrest in extreme cases.
Under the new ordinance, police would do the same, except that they would fine a person or people $50 on the second call, but the ordinance does not make clear whether the second call refers to the same incident or a different one on a different day.
Hoffman, along with its other authors, which include Wisnewski, said they wrote it because excessive and unnecessary noise is a significant threat to health, welfare, safety and quality of life and causes sleep disturbances, creates anxiety and distress and can even lead to aggressive behavior in some people.
Wisnewski, who was defeated by Mass in this year’s annual election in June, said he brought the ordinance to councilors more than a year ago because he had received suggestions from constituents about how the town might deal with unwanted noise in its neighborhoods.
Town Council could request and vote on an override of the mayor’s veto as early as July 16.