Horsham Council Considers A Noise Ordinance The Proposal Would Set A Decibel-level Limit For Residential And Commercial Neighborhoods.

Posted: June 26, 1997

HORSHAM — In response to continued complaints, the Horsham Township Council is debating an ordinance that would strictly limit noise levels in residential and commercial neighborhoods.

But residents of The Woodlands, a housing development near Upper Dublin, who pushed for the ordinance because they have been disturbed by music from the nearby Avalon Grill, are unhappy about the language of the proposal, which sets decibel limits.

``To be effective, they shouldn't use a decibel level,'' said Joanne Ferrare, who has registered complaints with the township for more than two years. ``It leaves a lot to be desired. The enforcement depends on who is doing the measuring and when it's done. It's just not going to be applied fairly.''

As the Horsham proposal is now written, township police will be trained to operate a sound level meter and would measure noise levels when responding to complaints. Fines for violations will range between $100 and $1,000.

To avoid relying on measurements, Upper Dublin approved an ordinance this month that applies to odor as well as noise and relies on neighborhood input. Under the Upper Dublin ordinance, if five people living in separate residences in a neighborhood testify in court that the noise or smell is bothersome, the noise or smell would be considered excessive.

After an initial warning, fines in Upper Dublin are $200 for the second offense and $350 for every offense thereafter.

``We considered [using complaints as a measuring stick,] but it has its drawbacks,'' said Jim Doherty, Horsham Council president. ``If I say five decibels is the highest level and you measure it at six, there's no way you can argue with that. But if you have people saying something is too loud, a judge might just say it's a matter of opinion.''

If the Horsham noise ordinance is adopted as it is written, the legal limit for noise lasting less than one minute would be five decibels above existing background noise in residential neighborhoods and 10 decibels on commercial/industrial neighborhoods. Decibel levels for sounds lasting longer than one minute would be restricted to 15 decibels in residential neighborhoods and 20 decibels in commercial/industrial neighborhoods.

To put those numbers in context, the volume of a person speaking softly is about 20 decibels and a lawn mower is about 90, according to Holly Kaplan, the director of audiology services at the American Speech, Language and Hearing Institution in Rockville, Md.

According to Stephen Pilch, Horsham's code-enforcement officer, decibel-level limits will be measured above existing background noise. The decibel restrictions in the proposal are similar to those used by ordinances in other area townships, Pilch said.

Under the proposal, trash pickup and construction will be limited to between the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Exempted from the Horsham ordinance are noise from legally operated airplanes and airports, bells and chimes used in association with religious or national celebrations, and the operation of construction equipment, appliances, and power tools used within the manufacturer's specifications.

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