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April 7, 2009

from City Council President Richard Conlin (newsletter)

On Monday, March 2, the Council unanimously approved amendments to the Noise Ordinance which are designed to make the process more rational for both those applying for permits for construction projects and for communities and members of the public who experience negative impacts from violations of the noise code.

The ordinance establishes a new Major Public Projects Variance, which can match the length of time that a project will be in construction and replace the current pattern of two-week variances. In order to qualify for this new code provision, a project will be required to develop a comprehensive noise mitigation plan with community input. Under amendments adopted by the Council, both the initial conditions of the variance and its required reevaluation after a one-year period are appealable to the Hearing Examiner. At any time the variance can be suspended or revoked for non-compliance.

The ordinance also dramatically increases the effectiveness of City noise enforcement efforts by adding a civil penalty provision, which is much easier to enforce than criminal penalties, adding the ability of the City to issue stop work orders, and providing new authority and a process for revoking noise variances.

Most of the amendments proposed by members of the public were accepted by the Council, with the exception of an amendment sponsored by Councilmember Licata that would have supplemented the reevaluation after one year with an annual check-in for Major Public Project Construction Variances that last longer than two years. I voted for this amendment, which unfortunately failed by a 5 to 4 margin.

The revised ordinance provides for better enforcement against noise violations, while also creating a way for major projects to develop a long-term mitigation plan. This should provide more certainty and save costs for major public projects, while also creating a better opportunity for the community to be protected against excessive noise. While I would have preferred the annual check-in proposed by Councilmember Licata, in practical terms, there will be very few public projects that will require noise variances for longer than two years, and it is very unlikely that there will be major issues outstanding that were not identified and managed after the first year.

Completing major construction projects while protecting communities from noise is a difficult balancing act. This ordinance should make win-win agreements possible, while providing strong protection for communities if a project does not live up to the terms of these negotiations.

The full text of the ordinance

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