Police propose updated noise control ordinance

After 10 years without a noise control ordinance in the City of Sequim’s Municipal Code, police leaders are looking to put something back on the books.

Police Chief Mike Hill told city councilors on May 13 that “there’s been over the years considerable discussion about a noise ordinance” but a new proposal has some “minor tweaks” to a previous code and is consistent with neighboring law enforcement agencies.

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 10, in the Sequim Civic Center, 152 W. Cedar St., over the new ordinance Chapter 8.32, following city councilor’s unanimous request to hold one.

City staff said they reviewed multiple noise control codes so that Sequim’s code “is reasonable, understandable, and enforceable for council consideration,” according to city documents.

In March 2014, city councilors repealed a 1997 noise ordinance because of its subjectivity for what constituted a violating noise, and police officers’ inability to prosecute.

However, councilors split on a revised ordinance, which led to it being voted down, and the city using the state’s noise ordinance briefly by measuring noise based on decibels using a handheld sound level meter.

Since then, Sequim Police Chief Mike Hill said his department has referred to some specific court cases and the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (MRSC) for guidance and recommendations in noise control ordinances.

Hill told councilors they don’t recommend using a noise meter in conjunction with the new ordinance.

According to the proposed code, it states that the city would look to regulate “noise that adversely affects the health, safety, and welfare of Sequim’s residents and visitors, the value of property, and the quality of the environment.”

Some of the noises that could be enforced for exceeding permissible noise levels, include:

• frequent, repetitive, or continuous noise made by any animal

• a horn or siren attached to a motor vehicle

• motor vehicles that have frequent, repetitive or continuous noise from starting, operating, repairing, rebuilding, or testing

• yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling, or singing in or near public streets between 10 p.m.-7 a.m.

• sounds from a building/property that can be heard from 50 or more feet away, such as sounds from musical instruments, audio sound systems, band sessions, or social gatherings

• audio equipment heard from 50 or more feet from its source

According to the proposed code, to be considered a “public disturbance the noise must last at least 20 minutes and occur within the same area and adversely affect two or more property owners.”

“The noise does not need to be constant,” the code states.

Some noises could become exempt during daytime hours from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Those include: temporary commercial/residential construction; power equipment used for maintenance/repair and utility services; and, bells/chimes not operating for more than five minutes in an hour.

Some items are exempt at all times, such as aircrafts in flight, first responders’ alarms/sirens and tsunami sirens, highway maintenance equipment and utility maintenance.

In cases of extreme or repeated violations, city staff may treat it as a public nuisance.

Hill said the new code doesn’t “prevent city law enforcement or code enforcement officers from notifying persons of violations or potential violations and requesting compliance.”

“It has long been our practice to seek voluntary compliance, which works for the vast majority of calls,” he said.

If a party was found in violation and did not comply, the city could impose a $250 fine under the code.

Each alleged violator has the right to appeal any enforcement against them.

City staff report Sequim has received 25 noise complaints so far this year, and 95 in 2023.

Hill said, “most, but not all, would be covered under this ordinance, and some would be exceptions, such as construction noise, noise associated with normal traffic or brief, one time, incidents that were not ongoing or excessive.”

City attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross said they’d look at verbiage for the proposed ordinance to make sure it doesn’t exclude manufactured homes, condos and apartments from reporting violations or being reported on as the code mentions property owners

“It’s helpful to have a step back from an ordinance you’ve spent a long time on and come back with fresh eyes,” she said.

For more about the City of Sequim, visit sequimwa.gov.