Monday, March 4, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Commissioners modify ordinance to make noise regulations more “enforceable”

It might not have set off a cascade of church bells or a deafening cheer. But a series of revisions to Alamance County’s noise ordinance did get an audibly joyous response from a handful of residents who were on hand to see the changes adopted by the county’s elected leaders on Monday.

The county’s board of commissioners ultimately voted 4-to-1 for a modified version of the proposed amendments, which their interim legal advisors had originally submitted last month in an attempt to make the county’s existing noise ordinance clearer and easier to enforce.

In addition to some cosmetic adjustments and a proofreading blunder or two, the most noteworthy change which the commissioners approved Monday concerns a noise curfew that the county had previously imposed on industrial operations.

Rather than key in on a business’ operations, attorneys with the Teague Campbell law firm had advised the commissioners to reword this provision to address any “unreasonable noise” that the business produces.

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They also proffered some changes to the curfew itself – which has traditionally run from 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturday and Sunday. As an alternative, the county’s lawyers suggested a weekday schedule from 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. that would also be extended to Saturday, although they saw fit to retain the existing restrictions on Sunday.

Before the commissioners voted on the proposed revisions, they held a public hearing which drew feedback from three people who live in the unincorporated community of Snow Camp.

During the hearing, the commissioners heard a generally favorable take on the changes from Ron Spinhoven, who recalled that he himself noticed some potential problems with the ordinance’s verbiage as long ago as 2018. Meanwhile, another resident, Trip Overholt, concurred with the curfew’s suggested new focus on “unreasonable noise” rather than industrial activity.

“Reasonable people would like to see…the ordinance clarified,” Overholt told the commissioners, “so that we’re protected from stuff that we have to listen to in the middle of the night.”

But the proposed changes in the curfew’s schedule didn’t strike nearly as harmonious a chord with Snow Camp resident Jennifer Dwayne – who feared that the truncated quiet period would only amplify the aural assault that she said already arises from a rock quarry that recently opened in her rural, unincorporated community.

“So, I would like to really encourage you to not allow heavy industries to operate on Saturdays in Snow Camp,” she added, “because that’s just adding insult to injury – salt in the wound; I mean, please.”

Dwayne’s entreaties didn’t exactly resonate with John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, who insisted that the existing quiet hours are just “too restrictive” for business and industry. But the resident’s pleas found a much more receptive audience in commissioner Bill Lashley.

“We should listen to our citizens,” Lashley admonished the rest of the board, “when they say Saturday is a big pain in their butts.”

In the end, commissioner Craig Turner suggested a compromise that went over well with most of the commissioners.

Turner insisted that he and his colleague should enact the proposed shift from “operations” to “unreasonable noise” in order to make the county’s noise ordinance more readily “enforceable.” At the same time, however, he pushed for the retention of the curfew’s existing schedule – and in particular, the all-day limits on Saturdays that Dwayne hoped to preserve.

The commissioners proceeded to vote 4-to-1 in favor of Turner’s proposal – with Paisley casting the only dissenting vote in this case. The ordinance’s passage received a light flood of applause from the public hearing’s three speakers.

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