Council considers a noise ordinance

By Dannie Oliveaux-For The Courier-Herald

The Bonney Lake City Council is looking at making changes to the current noise ordinance - thanks to a local night spot.

Council members discussed the changes during a May 20 workshop. The item was tabled to the council's Tuesday meeting, which came too late to be included in this story.

In the past, nearby residents have complained to council about noise coming from the nightclub. The lounge opened less than two years ago. Mayor Neil Johnson presented council members with copies of a police report listing activity from the Diamond Lounge, located in the 18000 block of Old Sumner-Buckley Highway.

In March, the Planning Commission recommended the council establish decibel levels for residential, commercial and industrial zones in the city's noise ordinance. Under the proposal, noise levels and measurements would be consistent with state limits. Citations would be issued if noise lasted at least 15 minutes. First-time offenders would receive a civil citation and subsequent violations would result in criminal misdemeanor charges.

During the workshop, Planning and Community Development Director John Vodopich said the city has the “necessary tools in their toolbox” to uphold the noise standards in the city.

Vodopich also presented council members with copies of noise ordinances from Tacoma and Olympia. He said Tacoma's comprehensive noise ordinance went into affect in April and Olympia was working on charges to its ordinance.

Proposed changes to the noise ordinance include the first violation constitutes a civil infraction; subsequent violations will be a misdemeanor. Changes to the ordinance would also exempt sounds created by city special events, electrical substations, industrial installations and a number of time- or site-specific exemptions.

Councilman Dan Decker asked whether the noise ordinance would be subject to a referendum and Deputy City Attorney Jeff Ganson said it would.

Ganson said the issue with the existing noise code has always been a reasonable standard.

“It gives the police officers flexibility in the moment,” Ganson said. “Part of the problem is that the code has gone back-and-forth at times. For most of the time, noise violation has been a misdemeanor.”

“Whatever we put together, it has to work,” council member Mark Hamilton said. “We need prosecuting attorneys to bring it to court and prosecute.”

According to the Municipal Research and Service Center of Washington (MRSC), the state recognizes that inadequately controlled noise adversely affects people's health, safety, welfare, the value of property, quality of life and the environment.

MRSC noted most cities in the state follow two basic approaches to control noise problems - noise control provisions based on the state Noise Control Act using decibel-based standards or subjective “public disturbance noise” standards, which do not require measuring decibels. Some cities use a combination of both approaches, noted the MRSC.

Ganson said the issue with the decibel approach in the past was a question of enforcement.

“We've done everything we can to help make sure the city's current noise code provides reasonable means of enforcement,” Ganson said. “But it is a reasonable standard which some people view as somewhat subjective and creates a fact issue that is fairly easy for someone to fight it when issued a citation.”

Tacoma's noise ordinance was created to help regulate noise levels that exceed the recommended day and night time levels are considered disruptive to the health and welfare of the community. The ordinance prohibits no more than five decibels during night time and no more than 10 decibels during the day above background noise levels. It also prohibits commercial music no more than six decibels within a dwelling, construction hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

In Tacoma, music from instruments, stereos or car stereos that is audible 50 feet from the source, or any sound that is audible within any dwelling unit that is not the source of the sound, is prohibited.

Continuous sounds such as horn honking or revving engines is also prohibited.

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