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Too loud in the City of Sequim?
Whether you’re listening to your radio, singing in the shower or practicing with your band, you might need to be careful of your decibels.
The City of Sequim is looking to revise its 1997 noise ordinance after ongoing noise complaints about some local businesses and residents.
They’ll host two public hearings — one on the revised noise ordinance along with marijuana sales, production and processing — at 6 p.m. Monday, March 10, in the Sequim Transit Center.
Chris Hugo, Sequim director of community development, said the biggest issue with the current code on noise complaints is that there isn’t a definitive measurable standard for noise.
Hugo said they’ve rewritten half a page of code into five pages to make it legal, defensible and objective.
To measure a noise complaint, Hugo recommends the city purchase a handheld sound level meter, incident calibrator station and wind meter for nearly $1,000. The city also would pay $200 for ongoing annual calibration and a to be determined sum on staff training.
When a noise complaint is reported, a police officer or the code compliance officer would go to the scene and see if the resident is violating the code. The proposed code recommends a residence cannot be heard by another residence more than 50 feet away and not be louder than 55 decibels, the sound between conversational speech and normal quiet stream.
Commercial businesses can be slightly louder for residences at 57 decibels but after 10 p.m. all homes and businesses must 10 decibels lower than daytime hours.
Those in violation receive a civil infraction at first and a misdemeanor on a repeat offense within 24 hours and can be charged up to $100 per day of not being in compliance.
The ordinance includes several exemptions from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. such as building and repairing homes and for special events like parades.
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the proposed code update follows state rules and modernizes the process of determining sound levels.
“If people think it’s too loud and we go out and measure it and it’s within limits, then it gives us the ability to explain what’s going on. It gives us a precise measurement,” he said.
Ritchie said every offender that’s been reported in the last year voluntarily complied including Krush, a recently closed business in Rock Plaza.
“As you might surmise, noise violations are like the tree falling in the forest. If nobody is around [to hear it and complain], then there is apparently no sound [noise],” Ritchie said.
Sequim city councilors said they favored the update.
“What I like about this including for the violator, if that’s what it is, is there’s firm ground to go from,” Councilor Dennis Smith said. “There’s a limit and set range to measure against and tell the violator, if that’s what it is, it’s wrong. It’s the best thing for both sides.”
Fellow city councilor Ken Hays said the difference in decibels between what is tolerable and not is very small.
“A violator may only need to turn down the receiver a little bit and they might not be able to perceive it on their end,” he said. “Having the tool, even at an expense, is a potent tool.”
Councilor Laura Dubois agreed with buying the meter but missed the city’s previous methods. “It’s unfortunate we have to have these five page codes to do such things when in the past you could just ask your neighbor to be quiet,” she said.
Sound code opponent
One Sequim resident seeking a compromise on the update is Jonathon Promer, 28, drummer for rock band Jack Havoc. His home is one of the residences city staff have referenced for violations.
Promer said they’ve had complaints through their three years of playing despite playing on Wednesdays and sometimes on Saturdays at “reasonable times.”
“We have had many times where we were told to turn down, but I have also gotten those complaints about just my drum set, which technically is not amplified and can be played until 10,” he said.
“If this new ordinance goes through, no one will be allowed to do anything because if a chainsaw or loud tool bothers someone they could shut it down. Is my lawn mower going to be too loud? Sound carries different in certain places.”
Hugo said the band plays for hours at a time and can be heard from half a block away but isn’t sure if it’s violating the 55 decibel meter.
“They start at noon and go until 6 p.m. and if you’re sitting in your backyard, can you enjoy yourself?” he said.
For Promer, he said the music is a healthy outlet for his bandmates.
“For 10 years, we’ve been playing and staying out of trouble,” he said. “The noise ordinance would kill it for them with no place to play. What else are we going to do?”
Promer said the Sequim Marching Band would play in the mornings at 7 or 8 a.m. and wake him up but he never complained.
“What (the city council) should be doing is building compromises,” he said.
For more about the noise ordinance, call the City of Sequim at 683-4139 or visit sequimwa.gov.