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Council begins crafting noise ordinance

GREENFIELD — Town Council plans to create a noise ordinance to make residents’ lives a little more peaceful and quiet, but councilors just aren’t sure how fast that will happen or what the ordinance will look like, according to some of them.

About 20 people came out this week to make noise about noise pollution throughout town, including trucks emptying Dumpsters at 5 in the morning and neighbors using leaf blowers at all hours of the day and night.

Attending an Appointments and Ordinances Committee meeting, many residents said the town needs an ordinance, that it’s about time.

According to George Touloumtzis of Abbott Street, a Planning Board alternate who said he was there as a resident, many towns and cities throughout the state have noise ordinances to protect their residents.

“There are many models,” said Touloumtzis.

While most of those who spoke said they want a stringent ordinance, Robert Sunderland, director of the YMCA on Main Street, said he worries that time restrictions would hurt the YMCA.

“We open at 5 a.m.,” he said. “My folks are typically out there at 3:30, maybe even midnight, when there’s a storm.”

Sunderland said businesses that open that early would be in trouble if they couldn’t use a snowblower until 7 a.m.

Cynthia Aldrich of Vernon Street said her main concern is the noise that some businesses make with chain saws, for instance.

“It goes on all day long,” she said.

Marie Beeching, who lives in the Mill House on Wells Street, said she listens to a truck collect trash from the Dumpster outside, sometimes at 5:15 in the morning.

“If people want to live in this town, I think it’s a good move to create an ordinance and set some limits,” she said.

Garth Shaneyfelt of Grinnell Street said there has to be balance between what people can do on their own property and how what they do affects their neighbors.

Shaneyfelt said reasonable use of power tools, for instance, is not a problem, but someone who sets up a splitter in their backyard for the entire fall interferes with the “peaceful enjoyment” of neighbors who want to spend time in their backyards.

Charles Olchowski of Smith Street said noise along Federal Street, from which Smith Street runs, infringes on his and his neighbors’ enjoyment.

“You hear trucks’ backup warning signals early in the morning and the crashing of Dumpster lids,” he said. “Those of us who are slowly aging and finding it more difficult to fall asleep early stay up until late, and then when we finally get to sleep, those noises are waking us back up.”

The draft ordinance, as written, would limit the use of power tools and other types of noise to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Some residents said they would like those times to be changed, especially the start of quiet time to 8 or 9 p.m., saying it is becoming more challenging for some to find peace on their properties.

Nicole Zabko, the town’s health director, said she will have to study the draft more closely, because there are times the town would have to defer to the state’s noise regulations.

Zabko said the town’s health department currently handles most noise complaints, with police handling the more serious and immediate ones — for instance, a loud party.

She said enforcement of such an ordinance is another issue.

“By the time we get there, many times the noise has stopped, so we have nothing to measure,” she said. “If we did get there in time, we would have to use a meter to measure the level of sound.”

Zabko said it would also be difficult for the health or inspections departments to enforce after-hour noise, because those offices are only open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are closed on weekends.

The draft that was presented to Appointments and Ordinances would make unlawful “any excessive, unnecessarily loud noise or any noise which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others ...”

It would also prohibit the loading, unloading, opening or closing of boxes, crates, containers, building material, trash cans, Dumpsters and similar objects between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and would prohibit the use of power tools, including power saws, sanders, grinders, drills, lawn mowers and garden tools, or similar objects, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The draft goes on to say that “It shall be unlawful to operate, play or permit the operation or playing of any radio, television, phonograph, drum, musical instrument, sound amplifier or similar device that produces, reproduces or amplifies sound between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. in such a manner as to create a noise disturbance across a real property line.”

The town currently does not have a noise ordinance.

Exemptions would include noise from safety signals, warning devices and emergency pressure relief valves, noise resulting from activities of temporary duration, which are permitted by right or licensed, unamplified human voice, parades and public gatherings that are permitted by the town, bells, chimes or carillon used for religious purposes, noise resulting from emergency or maintenance work by the town, state or a utility company, or noise caused by an authorized vehicle responding to an emergency.

The draft also offers a table, written by former Precinct 2 Town Councilor Keith Zaltzberg, of noise level maximums for day and night.

According to Zaltzberg’s table, noise could only reach a maximum of 68 decibels during the day (beginning at 7 a.m.) and 58 decibels in the evening until 10 p.m. outside in a residential area, while it could reach a maximum of 70 decibels in a commercial district during the day and night.

However, some councilors have expressed concern about those numbers, saying they may be flawed, because it would appear that just about any noise could exceed those limits, including a loud conversation.

For example, the federal Environmental Protection Agency measures sound levels in decibels and according to that agency, a leaf blower, for example, is measured at 110 decibels, while a chain saw and thunder are both measured at 120 decibels. A power lawn mower is measured at measured at 65 to 95 decibels, and a hand saw is 85 decibels.

Normal conversation is measured at 60 decibels, so a loud conversation coming from a close neighbor’s backyard at 9 p.m. could exceed evening hour limits.

All violations, according to the draft, would be kept on record by the Greenfield Police Dept.

“This is a big topic,” said Town Council Vice President Hillary Hoffman (Precinct 6), who is also a committee member and served as its acting chairwoman this week. “I think we’re more near the beginning of this discussion than the end. The final ordinance will most likely be written in a much different way.”

Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner, who also serves on the committee, said she would like to look at other towns’ and cities’ ordinances before making any decisions.

“I think we also need to pay attention to state law,” said committee member and Precinct 8 Councilor Karen Shapiro Miller.

“We’re not going to do nothing,” said Hoffman. “The level of feedback and engagement we’ve seen shows us that it is important to people who live in this town to have a noise ordinance.”

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