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Langley set to pass noise rules

Langley may have a new noise ordinance next week, one that tries to balance the boisterous festival and tourist atmosphere with the peace and quiet of downtown residents.

A key component deals with amplified and acoustic outdoor music, a staple of Langley summers that last year sparked a spirited debate and spurred the city council to act.

“It’s one of the most challenging ordinances I’ve ever worked on,” said Langley Police Chief Bob Herzberg, who with Finance Director Debbie Mahler crafted the latest proposal after reviewing the noise regulations of more than 30 other communities.

“Noise comes from so many sources and is interpreted by so many people,” he added Thursday. “What’s noise to one person is a pleasant experience for another.”

The Langley City Council will conduct the second of two discussions on the proposed ordinance at its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 19, at city hall on Second Street. A public council workshop will begin at 4 p.m.

If the council approves the ordinance as expected, it becomes law in a week.

The new ordinance, which Herzberg said is “a common-sense approach,” would replace one on the books since 1987. That provision was adopted as part of planning regulations governing development and deals with complex noise components such as decibels.

The original ordinance has remained mostly dormant, however, until the noise issue was raised this past summer. For one thing, the city has never acquired a decibel meter.

The latest draft of the law, still being reviewed by attorneys as of Friday, says its purpose “is to control noise in a manner which promotes commerce; the use, value and enjoyment of property; sleep and repose; and the quality of the environment.”

Among the exemptions would be live amplified and non-amplified sounds from outdoor venues in the downtown business district between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Amplified sounds, however, would need to comply with permits issued by the city, county or a state agency.

Public disturbances are defined as:

• Audio equipment installed or carried in vehicles playing so as to be plainly audible from a distance of 75 feet or farther,

• Repetitive honking or sustained vehicle alarms except as a warning of danger or required by law,

• Repetitive or continuous sounds from buildings, such as musical instruments, audio equipment, band sessions, alarms or social gatherings that “unreasonably interfere with the peace, comfort and repose” of nearby neighbors,

• “Yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling or singing” on or near public streets, particularly between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.,

• Frequent, repetitive or continuous sounds involving vehicles, motorcycles, off-road vehicles or internal-combustion engines in residential areas or near “human-services facilities,”

• Sounds from construction or maintenance projects on buildings or grounds, such as lawnmowers, power tools, snow blowers and composters, between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekends.

Exempt, along with authorized outdoor music, would be:

• Emergency vehicles,

• Parades and special events approved by the city,

• Operation of tools or equipment in public parks for authorized events,

• Construction or other noise in response to emergency situations,

• School and daycare noise “in the normal course of daytime operations,”

• Noise from the Island County Fairgrounds between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. as part of special events authorized by the city,

• Fireworks on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve between 9 a.m. and midnight,

• Noise from city snow-removal equipment,

• Sounds from delivery and refrigeration vehicles idling no more than 30 minutes.

The penalty would be a fine of up to $500 for the first offense, and a misdemeanor charge for subsequent offenses that could result in a steeper fine and possible jail time.

An earlier draft of the ordinance required at least two or more signed complaints regarding amplified outdoor music before police would take action. That wording was later removed on the advice of the city’s attorney, Paul McMurray, but Herzberg said he talked McMurray into examining it again. His final opinion is pending.

“I’m not trying to steer the boat,” Herzberg said. “I can live with it either way.”

“First and foremost, it’s a tool when we talk to people,” he said of the proposed ordinance. “In 30 years with the department, when we’ve responded to noise complaints, we worked them out 95 percent of the time.”

“We’re not going out to cite and ticket people,” he added. “Our intent is to educate people to be respectful of their neighbors. We all have to get along in this little town.”

Fred Lundahl, president of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, said the discussion about outdoor music has been useful.

“People who are planning the events have come to understand how amplified music can spill out through the neighborhoods,” Lundahl said. “I think they’re being more careful.”

“As a chamber member and merchant, I say the more music the better,” he added, “but being a good neighbor is part of being a resident of Langley.”

But there are limits to that enjoyment, said Christin Chaya, 59, a downtown Langley resident for the past five years whose current apartment on Fourth Street faces the business bowl.

She said that on weekends, her apartment is filled with the sounds of downtown music, even with the doors and windows closed. During Choochokam this past weekend, sounds from all three outdoor music venues flooded her apartment at the same time.

“It was like three separate radio stations blasting all at once,” Chaya said.

“It would be nice for me to go out on my deck without being overwhelmed by music I don’t like.”

“I’m a person who appreciates quiet,” she added. “Of course, you could argue that I still have Monday through Thursday.”

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