One day after Bike Week ended, the nine-member Gettysburg Borough Council voted unanimously to adopt a “comprehensive noise ordinance” Monday night.
Many council members called the proposed code a “good first start,” that will allow police to regulate what they feel is inappropriate overnight noise. Previously, there was no law in Gettysburg enabling the borough to regulate construction, vehicle clatter, power tools, the unloading or loading of vehicles, or other noise disturbances.
“We’ve waited a long time for it,” Councilwoman Claire Lewis said regarding the ordinance, which was first proposed back in 2008, but mired under internal and legal review.
Borough Council President John Butterfield called the new law an “important piece of legislation.”
Bike Week wasn’t specifically addressed during the public comment portion of the meeting, but loud motorcycles were cited.
“There are a lot of issues of noise in the borough other than vehicles, and that is the most difficult to consider when you are doing an ordinance. We have to consider all of those other disturbances,” explained Mayor William E. Troxell, who thanked the board for spending “hundreds of hours on this thing.”
Veteran Councilman Ted Streeter warned citizens that “noise isn’t going to stop because we passed a piece of legislation tonight.”
“It’s going to be very difficult to enforce, because of the movement of vehicles and enforcement procedures,” said Streeter, a 15-year board member. “I hope the police department isn’t bombarded with phone calls, because by the time somebody gets there, (the vehicle) will be gone.”
Councilwoman Susan Naugle, a member of the ordinance committee that researched the law, noted that her panel “struggled with some of the issues that were raised.”
“Noise is often transient, it is there and it’s gone,” she said, calling the ordinance a “reasonable approach that affords residents peace and quiet in their own home.”
“Our solicitor assured us that in Pennsylvania, our approach has been backed up by case law,“ added Councilwoman Naugle.
Councilman Bob Krummerich, chairman of the borough’s finance committee, said he had two initial concerns, mainly that the ordinance may get “caught up in costly litigation,” if appealed to a higher court.
“I’m also concerned about asking our police force to use law enforcement methods to stop a social issue,” said Councilman Krummerich, an outgoing member of the board. “I’m hoping that whoever is on council next year, will keep looking at it so it doesn’t become unenforceable.”
Councilman Alice Estrada reminded the 25 citizens who attended the borough’s monthly business meeting that the law won’t be a quick fix in limiting noise throughout the historic town.
“I don’t want everyone to be lulled into a false sense of enforcement — it is going to be difficult to enforce on many levels,” said Estrada. “It’s subjective, and we cannot invest in decibel meters to do readings,” said Councilwoman Estrada.
The ordinance isn’t aimed at one specific noise generator, and instead aims to regulate 17 types of noise disturbances, such as power tools, squealing tires and barking dogs.
“No one expects this to be easy to be enforce,” said Councilman Graham Weaver, who has complained about loud parties next to his residence in Colt Park. He reminded citizens that “not all of the noise in the borough comes from motorcycles,” pointing out that in his opinion, there are “eight or 10 other sources of noise in Gettysburg.”
“If it doesn’t work within a few months, we can always amend it and make it better,” Weaver said regarding the new ordinance.
Nine citizens spoke about the ordinance during the “public comment” portion of the meeting, with all but one — John Shuss — supporting. Shuss told council that he reviewed enforcement, and the law’s effect on the judicial branch, and wasn‘t impressed.
“The purpose of the proposed ordinance is scientifically useless,“ said Shuss, since the code “relies on the judgment of the officer.” “It does not distinguish different noise ordinances in different zones, or public versus private property, and how they are to be enforced,” continued Shuss, a 1950 graduate of Penn State University, who has worked in the electronic industry. Shuss pointed out that the Commonwealth of Virginia has “declared this type of standard unconstitutional.”
“You’ll need to test the officer’s hearing, and then determine if it’s normal,” noted Shuss.
The other eight citizens who spoke about the ordinance didn’t seem to mind that the new law relies on police discretion. Colt Park resident Bernadette Sterner believes the code will be a “useful” tool for police in regulating rowdy parties in her neighborhood.
“I think it would be an asset to give police officers more leeway,” said Sterner.
Similarly, Baltimore Street resident Judy Pyle supported the code, as she and other residents have voiced concern about motorcycles, ghost tours and idling buses noise years.
“I appreciate the fact that you’ve gone so long in working on a noise ordinance,” said Pyle, of 302 Baltimore Street.
Barlow Street resident Lefty Biser, representing the Hazel Alley citizens group near Gettysburg College, thinks the law gives residents and police more leverage in combating noise disturbances, especially at night when residents are trying to sleep.
Carlisle Street resident Ted McPherson lives near Gettysburg College, and has raised concern about parties, noise and student behavior over the past few years.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” McPherson said regarding the new noise ordinance.
Lutheran Theological Seminary spokesman John Spangler echoed members of council in calling the ordinance a “good start,” although “it’s probably not where the borough wants to end up in the long run.”
“Objective standards are always helpful in enforcement. I encourage the borough to think about where it wants to be, as standards become more enforceable,” finished Spangler.
Efforts to adopt an ordinance date back to 2008, but the proposal has mired under legal and internal review. It was publicly advertised and available for review for 30 days on the borough’s website, prior to the vote.
Councilman Michael J. Birkner, chairman of the board’s public safety committee, cast the motion to adopt the ordinance, and was seconded by Councilman Graham Weaver.
Following the unanimous vote, Pyle clapped in celebration.
Excessive noise is now standardized from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. with exemptions including church bells, emergency vehicles, ambulances.
The ordinance prohibits noise disturbances that affect private property, and was modeled after Environmental Protection Act standards, with similar noise laws studied in Cumberland Township, Lancaster, New Hope, Chambersburg and Carlisle.
Penalties for first time violators are $150 to $1,000,; $300 to $1,000 for second time violators; $500 to $1,000 for the third violation, and $1,000 afterwards.