After more than a year of discussion, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday finally passed a new ordinance that gives guidelines on how noisy citizens (and their pets) can be before neighbors have a legitimate complaint.
“This may have been one of the most challenging things we have dealt with in the development process,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova. “I thought we would never get to this point, with competing views and complaints all over the place.”
The new code replaces an interim code, which was adopted in 2013 after a Virginia Supreme Court ruling forced change to all noise codes.
At public hearings last spring, residents had concerns about acceptable noise levels and the methodology to measure them in new noise rules that cover everything from garbage collection to loudspeakers to lawn mowing. The Supervisors deferred decision until staff could better examine the methodology of measuring noise.
Supervisor Jeff McKay said Tuesday the new regulations will still have issues for trash collection, and that there is inconsistency among school loudspeaker systems.
“Not all not all [FCPS] schools get new PA systems,” he said. “Some of our schools are way closer to [homes] than other schools in the county. I hope the schools go down the path in making systems consistent and noise levels are controlled.”
Some of the new regulations include:
Making noise that can be plainly heard in another person’s home with the doors and windows closed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, or between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and the day before a federal holiday.
Using dog parks Monday through Friday before 7 a.m. or after dusk or before 8 a.m. or after dusk on Saturday, Sunday or the day before a federal holiday.
Barking, howling, meowing, squawking or quacking animals between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. when it can be heard inside a home with its doors and windows closed, or if these sounds can be heard 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. for more than five minutes consecutively or non-consecutively during a 10-minute period.
Collecting trash or recycling within 100 yards of a residence between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The operation of leaf blowers is prohibited between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Noise from athletic fields is permitted between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, or between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday, Saturday or the day before a Federal holiday. However, loudspeaker use remains prohibited between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Using a loudspeaker or amplifier between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
See a full list on Fairfax County’s website.
Violators of the ordinance can face both criminal and civil penalities. Criminal penalties for violation, a Class 2 misdemeanor, can be include jail time (up to six months) and/or a $1,000 fine. There can also be civil penalties of $250 (and $500 for subsequent offenses).
Some noises are excluded from regulation, including generators used in emergencies, snow removal, cars on the road, Metro trains and police or fire sirens. Citizens and businesses can also apply for temporary waivers.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to authorize a public hearing on changes to the noise ordinance that will aim to guarantee residents a little peace and quiet at night.
The public hearing will be held May 12 at 4 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center. If approved, the changes will go into effect the next day.
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.
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 propoal.
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.
See all changes, exceptions and conditions in this chart from the county.
The county is seeking to use a 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 Dog Park/file photo
Feel free to plan that big summer party: the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday scrapped plans for proposed new zoning rules on group assembly in private homes.
Earlier this year, the supervisors sought feedback from the public on new language in the zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance would have banned large gatherings — more than 49 people — in private residences more than three times in a 40-day period.
The board said on Tuesday there was not enough public support to move forward with the proposal. The county held three public hearings on the subject and read 200 submitted comments. As a result, the proposal was removed from the 2014 Zoning Ordinance Work Program that the board approved at its Tuesday meeting.
The supervisors began considering the proposal in February, saying that “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.”
More from the county:
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.
The proposal was criticized by many local residents, including this Reston Now reader:
“What a ridiculous proposal. I can have groups of 49 but that 50th person is “over the top? Every 41 days is OK but 40 is too much? Do children count? How are the police going to enforce, will the residents need to hand out numbered tickets to all their party guests or maintain a guest list so that when the cops come knocking we can show them we are in compliance?”
“Will this be 49 total for the day or at any one time? Don’t our local representatives have something better to do (like implement a meals tax or raise my property taxes)?”