Noise Ordinance Voted Down by Council, Request Made for New Effort

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Watertown Town Hall

The Town Council voted down the proposed Noise Ordinance with those opposed saying they thought the proposal was too complicated and difficult to enforce, but the issue will likely be taken up by the Council again.

The Council held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the proposal and to hear from residents.

Some residents gave examples of noises that they said impact their quality of life, including noise from amplified music at parks, loud activities at churches not having to do with religious services, and leaf blowers and other landscaping equipment. Others talked about activities on construction sites starting before 7 a.m. when it is allowed.

People who opposed the ordinance worried about their ability to do yard work if they cannot finish by 5 p.m., the end of the allowable period. Others said that requiring equipment to be under certain noise levels would be costly to landscaping companies, or even put them out of business. Some residents said they worried that items specified in the ordinance, such as air conditioning units and animals, would become illegal or lead to conflicts between neighbors.

The ordinance called for enforcement by a variety of departments and officials in Town: the Police, Fire Department, Health Department, the Building Inspector and Zoning Enforcement Officers. The proposal called for first giving a warning, and then having fines of $100 to $300 based on first, second and third offenses

Watertown Police Capt. Raymond DuPuis said the Police Department would enforce the ordinance if passed, but members of the WPD worry about the added workload that could come with enforcing the ordinance, and stated that “it is not going to be making us friends.”

Also, with many entities enforcing the ordinance, DuPuis said he worried about keeping track of what action had be taken previously with a resident or business.

Former Councilor Susan Falkoff, who worked on the ordinance when it was first taken up in 2017, said she had concerns about the proposal.

“I find the ordinance really difficult — it’s so complicated,” Falkoff said. “I like simple things, so I am not going to throw my wholehearted support or wholehearted opposition behind it.”

After public input, the Council weighed in on the proposal. Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli had a number of concerns, including some conflicting language in the ordinance, as well as the ordinance being confusing. He also noted that, if approved, it would go into effect immediately and he preferred a transition time for residents and business to adjust.

“I cannot vote for new law that leaves contractors and homeowners uncertain if they are breaking the law and leaves residents uncertain whether people in the neighborhood are breaking the law,” Piccirilli said.

Councilor Tony Palomba said he has received some letters from people saying that the Council should be focusing on more serious issues. He said, however, that he has heard from other residents who are very concerned about noise and noise pollution.

“I have been approached by people who see excessive noise and noise pollution as a health problem and a quality of life problem, so we wrote that in the declaration of findings and policies in the ordinance itself,” Palomba said.

With most lots in Watertown being small, and houses located just feet apart in many cases, Councilor Anthony Donato worried that the ordinance would be too harsh. He noted that the measurement of noises would be made at the property line, which in some cases is just feet from a neighbor’s home.

“My concern, if this passes as is, it is possible this ordinance be weaponized and neighbors would use it against neighbors,” Donato said.

Councilor Angeline Kounelis noted that the green area of her house is just seven feet from one neighbors bedroom and five feet from another neighbor’s patio. This could be a problem when mowing her lawn or using other equipment.

Councilor Caroline Bays said she has heard from several residents who have been deeply impacted by noise.

“Before COVID, noise was one of the top complaints I got. I’ve sat with people crying on my shoulder, I have sat with people who were so upset the felt they had to move,” Bays said. “It is not a minor complaint, it is a life altering complaint for these people. We’re trying to come up with something that would give the police, the Health Department and other people a mechanism that they would be able to measurably enforce it, and this is what I think this ordinance does.”

Councilor Lisa Feltner said that she thought the ordinance was rushed to a vote, and that the committees working on it, the Rules and Ordinances and Human Services committees, did not get all the assistance that they requested. They had asked Town staff for information about economic impacts, legal advice on creating the ordinance. She added that Town staff requested that the enforcement be spread between multiple departments.

Feltner added that the current noise ordinance dates back to 1983 and she believes it is in dire need of updating.

“I know (discussion on the ordinance) has been going on for a long time and I can tell you that we do need to update our noise ordinance. What we have now is not adequate to address our concerns,” Feltner said. “So, I hope people don’t get the impression that Watertown just needs to rely on good manners and everything will be taken care of. Then we wouldn’t need a bunch of other ordinances — whether reducing plastic bag use or the Zoning Ordinance — because people don’t do the right thing and people do what they want and don’t always care about their neighbors.”

Council President Mark Sideris said that he sees noise as a problem, but could not support the proposal.

“I will steal something (resident) Elodia Thomas said, ‘Is it reasonable, realistic and clear? Is it straightforward, practical and simple to enforce?’ I don’t think this is or does that,” Sideris said. “Is noise a problem, yes, but I think we need to do a better job as we try to address it.”

The Council voted 7-1 (and one present vote) against the proposed noise ordinance. Bays supported it and Palomba voted “present.”

Sideris said at the next Town Council meeting, on April 13, he would make a referral to the two subcommittees to work on the Noise Ordinance.

“We had two committees work for three years on it,” Sideris said. “I think we need to simplify it and potentially go in a different direction.”

11 thoughts on “Noise Ordinance Voted Down by Council, Request Made for New Effort

  1. 5PM? What a ridiculous cut off time. The real issue is the Generation Z folk partying past 2AM on porches with streets that bounce sound around everywhere, with only driveways separating properties.

    • Geoffrey,
      Maybe you should get to know your neighbors. Then when you wan them to quiet down because you need your quiet time you can just call them or walk over and ask them to turn it down. I’ll bet they won’t mind the simple communication.
      You might even make a friend.

  2. “People crying on my shoulder” about too much noise which is a “life altering complaint”? How in the wide world of sports did she ever get elected to the Town Council?

  3. Seriously? “life altering”?… “crying on my shoulder”?… “were so upset the felt they had to move,”? If some people are that emotionally affected by the noise they have mental health issues going on and ANY noise ordinance no matter how restrictive or clearly defined is not going to please them. These are exactly the type of neighbors we were warned about by Councilor Woodland; the ones who’ll be calling the police for any perceived violation no matter how slight or innocuous. They need counseling… not a police officer, firefighter or sanitation worker checking air conditioner noise levels or a parrot squawking at 3:00PM.

    However, I am pleased that at least 7 Town Council members had the common sense, fortitude, intelligence and sanity to vote this bubble headed rubbish down. Unfortunately it will be rearing it’s ugly head again with the predictable one-note tubas leading the charge. We might not be so lucky next time.

  4. These are the same people that want to defund or get rid of the police also. If that ever happens then who are they going to call? “Ghostbusters?”

  5. It all comes down to neighbors respecting one another and wayward landlords staying engaged with their properties and tenants. And yes, we are an urban suburb, if you want total quiet, rural Massachusetts is calling your name. Let’s be reasonable.
    As for Councilor Bays, like most of our friends on the far political left, she is a proponent of social engineering. The left believes that they know what is best for everyone and that they can engineer a Utopia, based on their ideals of course. Palomba could have at least manned up and took a side, one way or another, “present” what a laugh!

    • Fred, I agree with your call to be ‘reasonable’ about noise, and hope that you, me councilor Bays and a majority of the councilors can reach agreement on a new bylaw that achieves that goal, and promotes a more civil cooperation about what constitutes, excessive noise. Let’s build the foundation off the adage of simply being a good neighbor and doing unto others as you would have done unto you. Be considerate. But, the stuff about ‘social engineering’ and the lumping of ‘the left’ into your post, however, is a vast over-reach on your part and to be honest calls into question your call to be reasonable.

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