Culpeper County expands noise ordinances

WASHINGTON — County leaders in Culpeper want to help the sheriff’s office by putting teeth into a noise ordinance. Under the proposed changes normal activities that are legal now could end up becoming criminal.

The expanded proposed noise ordinance, by the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors, would make it a crime to make noise louder than 65 decibels after 6 p.m., seven days a week. Currently, the noise ordinance in the county applies after 10 p.m. and the penalty is a civil fine.

As a point of reference, a vacuum cleaner is about 70 decibels. If a resident, under the expanded noise ordinance, makes noise louder than 65 decibels it would be a criminal misdemeanor, with substantial fines.

For the first offense, the fine is $300, second offenses are $500 and the third is $1,000.

The current ordinance requires that a property owner be warned first. But under the new ordinance residents would no longer get a warning before the law would be enforced.

The new noise ordinance contains language that encourages residents to turn neighbors into the magistrate. Culpeper supervisor Bill Chase says,”People could use this to get even with each other, get back at each other.”

Chase voted against the proposed changes in July which the county board of supervisors passed by a vote 5-2. But the county attorney said the changes would require a new public hearing which is set for Sept. 2.

“If they left it at 10 p.m. that would be a little more reasonable standard,” say Culpeper resident Michael Watts. Talking about the time that the new noise ordinance would take effect.

He says by moving the quiet hours to 6 p.m. that would mean, for example, Christmas carolers who generate about 70 decibels would become criminals. He says vacuuming a car at 2 a.m. would disturb somebody, but 7 p.m. shouldn’t be illegal.

Watts says the board of supervisors wanted to help the sheriff’s office with the issue of enforcement. But he says expanding nighttime restriction hours does not help with enforcement. He says a group of citizens in Culpeper is asking the supervisors to increase the enforcement of the law without changing the nighttime quiet hours.

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