Council greenlights ‘good start’ noise ordinance

Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Common Council members on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a revised noise ordinance that several called a “good start.”

The complicated ordinance calls for a maximum outdoor noise level of 55 decibels in the daytime and 45 decibels at night.

Washington Street’s bar area has special limits: 65 decibels at night, 10 feet from an establishment, and 35 decibels inside a residence.

A whisper is 30 decibels, normal conversation is 60, motorcycle engines are 95, and helicopters are 105.  Intensity varies based on proximity to the source.

The 14-0-1 vote followed one protest from a business owner, one plea for help from a resident and comments from activist Diane Lauricella. Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) was lauded for her stewardship of the effort and Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) suggested monthly monitoring of results.

Attorney Leonard Braman, representing Washington Street bar Our House, unsuccessfully requested a delay in the new ordinance’s  “last call for music” in the area by one hour, to 11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday and midnight on Thursday, citing the state liquor law which defines last call as 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. weekend nights.

Melendez said the phrase “last call for music” is incorrect, as music could still be played, just at a lower noise level.

Osbourne Avenue resident Elizabeth Greenwood said she lives less than 30 feet from the Norwalk River. New pilings can be driven during low tide, which can be anytime.  She requested a change to restrict pile driving; council members did not address her comment.  Lauricella said the key to the noise issue is keeping the noise inside the property, and noted that the ordinance does not address buffering.

The new ordinance is “a lot better than what we had before,” Melendez said.  Hempstead observed that the original ordinance was created in 1983, then revised in 2001, and now revised again, meaning the Council has considered noise three times, in 18 year-intervals.

The Council began working on the ordinance in February 2017, in response to complaints from Washington Street residents.

“It’s been a journey but we finally have language in front of us, that we all have worked on very hard,” Melendez said.

Excessive noise is a health issue and should be addressed, but it’s not possible to eliminate all noise because businesses have to operate, she said.

Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) commended Melendez.  “You stayed on top of it and made sure it got done and got done well.”

“Not everybody is going to be happy, of course, and maybe that’s a sign of a successful ordinance but there were so many different factors to consider, so many different areas in the city to consider,” Livingston said.

Enforcement is critical, he and others said.  The City is seeking estimates on training equipment and a special appropriation is likely.  There will also be modifications to the building code to address noise issues before they arise.

Connecticut’s Department of Transportation, which is not subject to the ordinance, is allowed to produce 90 decibels of noise, ConnDOT Walk Bridge project engineer Stacey Epps said in June.

Hempstead called for landlords to make tenants “maintain a level of decency for peace and quiet” and bring their buildings up to code.

He suggested that the Health, Welfare and Public Safety Committee review noise complaints monthly, while keeping in mind that “heavy duty work” is “sometimes it’s not the nicest thing to happen, it’s also a very necessary thing to happen in our community.”

Ernie Dumas (D-District B), who abstained on the vote, took exception to that.  There are 30 illegal contractor yards in South Norwalk, and people wouldn’t need buffering in their homes if the the noisy yards weren’t allowed, Dumas said.

“I have been against the contractor yards from the beginning,” the South Norwalk Councilman said.

Darlene Young (D-District B) and Colin Hosten (D-At Large) echoed his concerns.  Noise consultant Eric Zwerling, hired by the City to assist in formulating the new ordinance, went out with Dumas and Lauricella in 2017 to view the proximity of light industrial zones to residential areas, Young said.  She joined Livingston and others in calling for effective enforcement.

Hosten said that despite the ordinance’s “meaningful improvement,” there are still challenges.  Nevertheless he expressed hope that the ordinance’s provision to designate noise sensitive zones would allow South Norwalk residents “to enjoy the same protection as the rest of the city.”

Melendez said the ordinance will be submitted to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and will go into effect 10 days after DEEP approval.


jo bennett April 24, 2019 at 6:10 am

Are the “30 illegal contractor yards” on some kind of plan to get in compliance? Do they pay fines?

Diane Lauricella April 24, 2019 at 9:54 am

Very happy that we are moving forward with this project! Very happy that the Council now recognizes that noise is a Health matter as well, as the South Norwalk Citizens for Justice (SNC4J) had advocated for Health Department and Director D’Amore get much more involved than her predecessor Tim Callahan did. SNC4J also urged reforms back in 2016 due to the AMEC Carting issue when we observed tremendous noise from crashing dumpsters before dawn.

SNC4J stands ready to help with reforms going forward to ensure police have support for better training and equipment than they have now but urge that an Enforcement strategy review take place immediately, as the current Ordinance is still in force.

Norwalk’s new “Quiet City” efforts are appreciated!

Norwalk Native April 24, 2019 at 12:49 pm

Very nice work Eloisa!

Now how about addressing the illegal apartments that proliferate throughout South Norwalk? Aren’t illegal habitations also a “health issue” as you mention above? If you are not the right person to enforce the City’s zoning laws, who is?

Norwalk native April 24, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Mr. Kimmel,

Thank you for congratulating yourself and your colleagues on a job well done. Can you provide any specifics on what is being done to address the epidemic of illegal apartments in South Norwalk? How many cases have been investigated YYD; how much on fines have been assessed?? Don’t your constituents have a right to know if and how you are enforcing the zoning codes?

John J. Flynn April 24, 2019 at 7:32 pm

Thank you Ernie Dumas. Abstaining from the vote because the contractor yards were not addressed in the changes made to the ordinance. Any time you want a seat at the table in the republican party in district B. I will gladly endorse you for the fine ethical gentleman that you are. You and the Citizens for Justice are doing your best without any recognition from your own party. I appreciate you. Well done.

Steve Mann April 25, 2019 at 8:22 am

Kudos to the CC, and the Ordinance Committee for addressing a serious quality of life issue. Clarification needed though: Outdoor conversation appears to be in violation of permitted level of decibels. Will this ordinance be selectively enforced, or are any violations subject to fine? A dog bark is anywhere from 60-100 decibels. Is the new ordinance too restrictive?

Joe April 27, 2019 at 5:39 pm

This is the last nail in the coffin for once legendary SONO entertainment strip.

Hundreds of CT and NY musicians earned and entertained in this once thriving strip since the puritan pols raised the drinking age 3 years above the marriage-enlistment-death penalty age.

We can thank Knoff and Moccia for the first nail with their termination of the key-to-high volume success FREE PARKING LOT.

Now, here comes know-it-all post teenager, my way or the highway, Melendez, the musician-waitress hater.

No more singing and playing the drums allowed here. Speak quietly or be fined. The Musical Arts Be Damned.

Ct-NYC Musicians Against Melendez.

Jaimie May 25, 2019 at 11:07 pm

Too bad it’ll never be complied with or enforced. For example, right now Soho Bar is blasting music with their door and giant front window completely open and one of the wine bars has a live band playing with all the windows open.

They don’t even bother to post a sign to remind patrons that people live here. They blast their music, close and then everyone stands in the street screaming and carrying on for an hour.

I wish I never moved here.

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