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Night Time to (Generally) be Quiet Time in Fairfax County

Playtime at the dog parkKeep it quiet out there.

That could be the new way of doing things later this week in Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on its proposed new noise ordinance on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center. If approved, new noise regulations will go into effect on Wednesday.

The county says it needs permanent noise regulations to replace interim ones that had been in place since 2013.

“It is the purpose and intent of the proposed Ordinance to recognize that certain noise is a hazard to the public health, welfare, peace, and safety, and the quality of life of the citizens of Fairfax County,” county planners say in a staff report on the subject.

“People have a right to and should be ensured of an environment free from sound that jeopardizes the public health, welfare, peace, and safety or degrades the quality of life; and it is the policy of the Board to prevent such noise to the extent such action
may be permitted pursuant to Federal or State law.”

The county adds that some noise is a given in a highly populous areas such as Fairfax County.

Certain noises are a hazard to the public health, welfare, peace, and safety and adversely affect the quality of life of its citizens,” it writes. “However, it is also recognized that a certain amount of noise is inevitable, particularly in a suburban/urban area such as Fairfax County. It is believed that certain
levels of daytime noise should be allowed so that people can live, work, and play during the day.”

The county says violations of the proposed Noise Ordinance could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a civil penalty.

Here are some of the changes county staff seeks to make:

Activities on School and Recreational Grounds — Advertise a decibel range of 60 to 72 dBA for limiting the maximum noise level for cumulative noise, when loudspeakers are used.

“People Noise” — Begin prohibition on noise that can be heard in residential districts (read: party noise) at 11:00 p.m. on weekends and the day before a holiday.

Dog Parks — Begin dog park hours at 8:00 a.m. on weekends and holidays. This may be good news to residents of Longwood Grove in Reston, who in 2014 filed an injunction against the dog park at Baron Cameron Park, saying the excessive noise begins at 5:30 a.m. The residents’ case against the county was recently dismissed, but the group’s suit against Reston Dogs Inc. remains active.

Animal Noise — Any owner or person in control of any animal that allows or otherwise permits any such animal to “bark, howl, bay, meow, squawk, quack, crow or make such other sound between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. that is plainly audible in any other residence with doors and windows closed” could be in violation. There are exceptions and time rules. Read more details on the updated proposal.

Operation of Power Lawn Equipment — Permit the use of power lawn equipment, except leaf blowers, beginning at 5:30 a.m. for golf course maintenance when located more than 50 yards from a residence.

Trash Collection — No changes to current proposal.

Maximum Sound Levels — No changes to current proposal.

Some activities are currently prohibited under the interim ordinance and will continue to be prohibited:

Night time (9 or 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.): operation of most loudspeakers, outdoor construction, outdoor motor vehicle or mechanical device repair, outdoor powered model vehicle operation, trash collection in residential districts, and the loading and unloading of trucks within 100 yards of a residence.

The county said it would grant waivers if noisemakers can prove the noise does not endanger the public health, safety or welfare; or quieting the noise would produce
serious hardship without producing equal or greater benefit to the public.

See all changes, exceptions and conditions in this chart from the county.

The county is seeking to use the proposed new Noise Ordinance to replace the current Noise Ordinance and the provisions that were put in place in 2013.

In late 2013, the supervisors adopted the Excessive Sound Generation in Residential Districts provisions that allowed police to ticket a resident with misdemeanor charges if neighbors complain about noise.

In early 2014, county staff presented the first draft of a new Noise Ordinance (Chapter 108.1 of the County Code) to a Board of Supervisors’ committee.

The county held a series of public hearings in 2014, and in February 2015 developed an updated draft noise ordinance amendment and summary chart and requested guidance on several issues.

Baron Cameron Park dog park/file photo

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Hold It Down Out There: Supervisors Approve New Noise Ordinance

Dog Park at Baron Cameron ParkThe Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new noise ordinance on Tuesday, but several Reston residents spoke up saying the noise wouldn’t aid them as they dealt with barking from a nearby dog park.

The supervisors passed the ordinance, which would allow police to ticket a resident with misdemeanor charges if neighbors complain about noise.

Fairfax County Police said they received an average of 152 noise complaints a month in 2012.

The county had been operating without a noise ordinance for four years after a 2009 Virginia Supreme Court ruling that ruled a Virginia Beach law banning any “unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary” noise was unconstitutional. Fairfax had a similar ordinance, and while it was not thrown out, it was not enforced.

But with potentially raucous parties coming up in the holiday season, the new ordinance was voted into place.

“As the holiday party season nears, it is recommended that language in the County Code be in place to address loud party complaints from residents, among other sources of  excessive sound, that may adversely impact the quality of life of its residents,” the proposal stated.

The main proposed rule  – “No person in any residential dwelling or residential area, including the common areas of multifamily dwellings or mixed use structures, shall permit, operate, or cause any source of sound or sound generation to create a sound that is audible in any other person’s residential dwelling with the doors and windows to the other person’s residential dwelling closed. In addition, the source of sound or sound generation must be discernible regardless of whether such doors and windows are closed.”

A first offense would now be a Class 3 misdemeanor that could come with a fine of not more than $500.

Residents who live near Baron Cameron Park — the site of Reston’s off-leash dog park — says the rule does not go far enough because while they can hear dogs barking, the noise is technically not in their neighborhood.

The supervisors said that the rule will be revised further, with dog barking and industrial noise to be addressed.

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