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CANTON – The definition of nuisances, as well as enforcement of noise ordinance violations will likely tighten in Cherokee County as the year comes to a close, addressing several cases that have come before the board of commissioners and setting precedent for cases to come.

The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners discussed during its Oct. 2 work session drafts of a noise ordinance that would bring changes to the regulation of noise from firearms and more specific guidelines for outdoor loudspeakers, music, fireworks, pet noise, mechanical noise and other activities in unincorporated Cherokee County.

The board has heard many complaints from residents of unincorporated Cherokee, some resulting in lawsuits, which would be addressed by portions of the drafted ordinance.

“I think there are several, various issues that have caused us to bring this issue to the forefront,” County Attorney Angela Davis said during work session discussion. “I think the goal of this work session, as I understand it – and then a process going forward – is to learn about opportunities from our experts as to how we might measure noise, from a reasonable standpoint, and then decide how we want to draft legislation through our ordinances that we would then be able to enforce to protect the community.”

Commissioners have frequently discussed during the past few months potential updates to noise and firearms ordinances in unincorporated Cherokee. Cases like the dispute between Garland Mountain Sporting Clays and surrounding residents, as well as neighborhood noise disputes, have brought attention to the county’s current noise ordinance. Commission Chairman Leavitt “Buzz” Ahrens said Friday the discussion of the need to update the ordinance was not initiated by a specific case, but rather multiple cases over time.

According to Commissioner Bob Kovacs, board members and planning staff have been circulating noise ordinance drafts from various municipalities to compare language and enforcement tactics.

The board has also enlisted the help of Jesse Ehnert and Arpeggio Acoustic Consultants, LLC in creating an ordinance that will address the noise that county staff identifies in the most recently available draft as “a major source of environmental pollution, which represents a threat to the serenity and quality of life in Cherokee County.”

The current draft of proposed ordinance updates, which extends the present ordinance from a single page to 12, limits noise of various types with measurements of decibels as well as gives a limit to noises deemed “plainly audible” by distance from the source.

Based on the draft, sounds to include mechanical noise, party noise and shouting, among others, would be limited to 300 feet from the source between 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. and 100 feet from 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. Violations of the proposed legislation could carry a fine of $100 - $1,000, imprisonment of up to 60 days or both.

Ehnert, who participated in the commission’s discussion of the draft on Oct. 2, told the board that the difficult part about noise ordinances are normally the enforcement, so measurability and specific language will be critical in a final draft.

Ehnert said it’s important to have a law with measurable limits in it.

“If I see a noise ordinance that has no numbers in it at all, then it’s fairly useless,” he said. “If you have something objective and quantifiable, then it’s a lot more cut and dried.”

The current draft, he said, uses too few measurable limits and murky enforcement language.

“I think there’s a danger, within the same requirement, to say ‘clearly audible’ and then have a number attached to that,” Ehnert said. “Those two things can very easily be contradictory to each other, depending on where you are.”

Ahrens expressed concern for the difficulty of enforcement when sounds may start and stop suddenly, and Ehnert conceded that there could be some gray area. But, he said, the ordinance would have to take measurement equipment and capability into account and vice versa.

“Measuring sound is not the most straightforward thing to do. It depends on what type of noise source it is – an idling semi-truck is a very different sort of noise than an impulsive sound, like a shotgun, so you can’t really measure them the same way,” he said.

Ehnert suggested that the county set limits based on number of decibels above each area’s ambient noise level, which he said works to address differences in day-to-day noise levels of agricultural and city life. He said Atlanta’s noise ordinance uses this enforcement, and sets another limit of “absolute levels” if ambient cannot be measured for any reason. Commissioners expressed interest in pursuing language in a future draft that followed the same guidelines.

For louder, more sudden noises, which he referred to as “impulsive noise,” the auditory expert suggested setting more absolute limits. He said noises like firearm discharge and fireworks could be regulated with this tactic.

Commissioners were receptive to impulsive noise decibel limits, and noted that those absolutes could be applied easily to residentially zoned areas of the county, a tactic that could eliminate concern with things like firearm discharge in communities where homes are close together.

Commissioner Scott Gordon supported restrictions, but said no part of any ordinance should restrict firearm ownership or infringe on state or Constitutional law.

Language in a separately displayed draft of an article amendment does include firearms protections under “exemptions”:

“Nothing in this ordinance shall be construed to prohibit the ownership, possession or carrying of any firearm in a lawful manner in accordance with state law,” the paragraph reads.

The ordinance draft contains exemptions and exceptions for law enforcement, emergency services and other authorized workers and vehicles, as well as opportunities for written permission from the county marshal for variance to the ordinance.

Commissioners set a goal to finalize an ordinance by the end of the year. Ahrens also added that he would like a draft to undergo a public hearing at the board’s Nov. 6 meeting and directed planning staff to update its draft and discuss the updates with Ehnert for review by Oct. 30.

The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners meets at 3 p.m. for work sessions and 6 p.m. for regular meetings every other Tuesday of each month at the Northside Hospital Cherokee Conference Center at 1130 Bluffs Parkway in Canton.

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