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.