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Hingham officials revise controversial noise bylaw proposals

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 28, 2014 03:50 PM

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Hingham officials say they have pared back a proposed noise ordinance that earlier caused an outcry among Hingham residents.

The revised ordinance removes any mention of decibel levels, but keeps proposed fines of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $300 for a third and subsequent offenses. Certain activities, such as construction or landscaping, or use of power tools and dumpsters would be prohibited at certain times.

“The public commentary was such, that taking a pragmatic view, we didn’t think the continued inclusion of the objective decibel provision made sense politically,” said Dennis King, a member of the Noise Bylaw Study Committee. "…There was a point of resistance that we didn’t think it made sense to pursue."

King said the biggest concerns about the original proposal was that community policing would change, which wasn’t the bylaw’s intent. As a result, clarifying language was added that the standards for issuing noise complaints are the same as they were before.

Instead of objective decibel levels, police will continue to be guided by the subjective standard of prohibiting noise that "disburbed the peace."

Under the new ordinance, however. Hingham police would no longer have to place someone under arrest for “disturbing the peace,” but could issue a citation accompanied by a fine, King said.

“You will not be cited criminally and will be cited civilly if you do breach the peace,” King said.

Hingham Police Chief Michael Peraino said he’s happy to finally have a bylaw that enables his officers to deal with noise complaints in a practical manner.

“Three weeks ago we had an incident with a contractor…we will finally have a time period. It’s right there in a bylaw that you can't start before 7 a.m., dumpsters can’t be emptying. So when people call and complain…we can act on it.”

The new ordinance still requires approval from selectmen, who said they will take a vote when they open the Town Meeting warrant at a meeting next week.

The Advisory Committee will also have to vote on the recommendation, though final approval will go to a Town Meeting vote.

Bylaw Committee members have been working through bylaw language since October, analyzing other communities’ noise restrictions and discussing how Hingham might adopt a policy.

A draft presented to selectmen in early January was received with alarm, as residents expressed concerns that the proposed decibel limits would prevent them from doing everyday outdoor activities.

The Hingham Sports Partnership also took a stance against the bylaw, fearing that outdoor sports activities would suddenly become restricted.

The bylaw still lists several exceptions even to its subjective criteria. Law enforcement and public safety vehicles, PA systems at sanctioned events, events that receive the support of town boards, permitted events, parades, religious bells or chimes, snow- removal operations, permitted construction activity, and public transportation all can operate in excess of the bylaw's standards.

The bylaw would restrict construction and landscaping from 7 p.m. to 6:59 a.m. or 7:59 a.m. on weekends; use of power tools from 8 p.m. to 7:59 a.m.; and the emptying of dumpsters from 8 p.m. to 6:59 a.m. on weekdays and 7:59 a.m. on weekends. Time guidelines were modified only slightly from the original proposal.

Loud engine-braking devices are not permitted at any time except for vehicles on Route 3 and if they are required for safety.

This week's meeting was much calmer than previous discussions over the bylaw, which King joked was akin to angry townspeople with pitchforks and torches.

The one resident who did speak at the meeting said he supported the changes.

“I thought it was a joke to begin with,” said John Hersey. “I’m glad to see the outcome is what it is today.”

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