Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Noises Off

In the summer, the majority of Norristonians seem to enjoy outdoor activities, and they enjoy bringing the outdoors in by opening their house and car windows. So it's a good time to review the noise ordinance. Some of you don't know there IS a noise ordinance. (Actually, it's very apparent with every set of new neighbors moving onto my street, that they don't know Norristown has laws at all--can we remedy that somehow? Make the link to our General Laws part of a Welcome Wagon packet for new residents?)

Anyway, if you go to the "N" part of the General Law Index and click on "Noise," you'll see several entries dealing with the topic--everything from noisy dogs to noisy motorcycles to noisy manufacturing. For instance, ice cream trucks need a special permit or else they're in violation of Section 215-1 that says you can't use sound to advertise from a vehicle.

A lot of the provisions carry curfews saying when you have to stop making noise. This even covers things like trash collection, which isn't supposed to take place before 6 am or after 6 pm on weekdays. Likewise, construction shouldn't take place after a certain time of evening, so if your neighbor's roofer shows up at 9:30 pm (like my neighbor's did a couple weeks ago), tell him to take a hike.

As for cars, yours can't emit music or other ongoing sounds that can be heard 25 feet or more away from the vehicle. Honking your horn is okay in short spurts. Leaning on it isn't unless it's an emergency. The basic rule of thumb is, if you're making noises loud enough to prevent you or nearby motor vehicle operators or pedestrians from hearing emergency vehicles, pedestrians, other cars, or other warnings, then you present a hazard and you're in violation. If you hear drivers do any of this, you're within your rights to report them.

Possibly the most misunderstood, or at least most ignored, parts of the code are Section 225-6  and Section 229-4, which apply to public residences as well as behavior in parks and other gathering places that we frequent more in the summertime. You can read the section at the links for each, but here are some quotes:

"A. With the exception of Municipal-sponsored concert events, the only music-playing devices which shall be allowed in Municipal parks shall be common, personal-sized radios, compact disc players or other devices designed for the enjoyment of individuals or small groups.

"B. Music devices shall not be so loud as to be heard beyond a thirty-foot radius: nor shall they create excessive bass vibration so as to disturb park users or residents adjacent to the park.

"C. No music equipment designed for amplification across a large area, including large speaker systems commonly used to amplify music in large group or concert settings, shall be permitted."

"It shall be unlawful for any person to make, continue or cause to be made or continued any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise or any which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, help, peace or safety of others within the limits of the Municipality of Norristown. To be a violation of the law, the noises must either be excessively annoying, loud or unusual.

"C. Festivals, carnivals, parties and other gatherings, whether on public or private property, shall be prohibited from generating music, singing, or prolonged noise of any kind whatsoever between the hours of 9:00 PM and 10:00 AM Sunday through Thursday and between the hours of 10:00 PM and 10:00 AM Friday through Saturday.

"D. Parties and gatherings at private residences in Norristown shall not be so loud as to create noise that can be heard by  adjacent neighbors at a distance of 25 feet or greater."

Violations can carry fines up to $300. If you default, you can be imprisoned 5 to 30 days. And these codes can apply to church and non-profit activities as well. Make sure you let the borough know, say, that your church is hosting a concert in their parking lot.

I try to cut my neighbors a break in the summer. There was a party a couple doors away Sunday afternoon. They were way too loud, but it broke up around 7 pm. If it's a once-a-while thing, I can live with it. I have a friend on Lafayette St, though, who says her neighbors play loud music at all times of the night and day, in all seasons. I can't say I'd be too patient with that. As for the groups who show up in Elmwood Park some weekends, with 50+ people, a DJ and a huge sound system that, a tenth of a mile away, makes my brick house shake, I'm not forgiving at all, especially when my tax dollars have to pay to clean up after them the next day.

As for private parties, my best friend has a mantra about that that seems to be the best advice--"Always invite the neighbors." It goes a long way toward thanking them for putting up with your noise and taking up all the parking spots on the block.

To report a noise ordinance violation, call the Norristown police at 610-270-0977.

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