Barking Dogs, Big Parties Could Be Trouble Under Proposed County Noise Rules

Sign at dog park at Baron CameronYour barking dog may earn you a misdemeanor fine if a proposed noise amendment moves forward in Fairfax County.

The county will hold a series of public hearings this month to get community feedback on changes its noise ordinance.  The county zoning department says the goal of the proposed noise ordinance is to “minimize nighttime noise and guarantee residents a certain level of quietness within their homes.”

The proposed new noise ordinance would replace both the existing Noise Ordinance (Chapter 108), which went into effect in December, and the existing Excessive Sound Generation in Residential Areas and Dwellings provisions (Article 6 of Chapter 5 of the County Code).

This may be good news to five homeowners on Longwoood Grove in Reston. The group recently filed an injunction against Reston Dogs and the Fairfax County Park Authority about excessive noise at the off-leash dog area at Baron Cameron Park.

Under the proposed new noise ordinance, “noise from animals that is plainly audible and discernible for more than 10 consecutive or nonconsecutive minutes in any 30 minute period (1)  across property lines, (2) across residential unit partitions, or (3) a distance of 50 feet or more from the noise” may be a ticketable offense, if approved.

However, dog parks are considered “recreational grounds,” so barking dogs in a dog park would be permissible from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., a county spokesman says.

The new noise ordinance also has guidelines for trash collection, motor vehicle noise, band practice, construction equipment and lawn mowers, among other situations. See the full list of amendments. Misdemeanor fines are $500 for a first offense.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new nuisance ordinance in late 2013.

But the most recent ordinance deals mainly with loud parties. The proposed amendments break down noise by individual situations.

Regarding big, raucous parties, the county is also seeking feedback on adding language to its zoning ordinance concerning large group gatherings. The county would like to limit group assembly in a home to 49 people at a time, and limit large group gatherings to fewer than three times in a 40-day period.

From Fairfax County:

Over the last several years, there have been complaints from residents regarding frequent and large gatherings at neighborhood homes. These gatherings can create parking, noise, and other concerns for the neighborhood. Although occasional, large gatherings – such as private parties, house concerts, religious meetings and social clubs – are expected and permissible activities at a home, gatherings that occur on a regular basis involving numerous people can detract from the residential nature of a neighborhood because most residential structures and neighborhoods are not designed to accommodate such events.

Accordingly, it is recommended that language be added to the Zoning Ordinance to define what is a permissible “group assembly,” and when associated with a residence, when such a group assembly is an appropriate “accessory use.” Currently, the Zoning Ordinance does not identify guidelines for the frequency or scale at which group assembly is considered to be a permitted accessory use to a dwelling. Without such specificity, managing and addressing impacts of these large, frequent gatherings becomes problematic, and the County is limited in its ability to respond to neighborhood concerns.

After the public comment period and changes to the amendments, the plans would have to be voted upon by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Have an opinion? Community meetings will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the following locations:

The county is also accepting public comments online.

Photo: Sign at Baron Cameron Dog Park/File Photo

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