Months of noise bylaw complaint calls has prompted one councillor to request a report reviewing HRM’s current noise bylaw to determine an acceptable – and measurable – decibel level.
“This came about because of a spring and summer full of calls around noise bylaws and neighbour against neighbour, people saying ‘How do you determine it? Sound should be measured,’ all of those kinds of things, and also an extensive call out to policing services,” Coun. Cathy Deagle Gammon told her colleagues during Tuesday’s regional council meeting.
“Who decides that loud is too loud? And so the noise bylaw just being as subjective as it feels and appears to be, we were hoping that there could be a review to assess how staff currently determine that an activity unreasonably disturbs the peace and tranquillity of a neighbourhood and whether a measurable and objective means of determining noise level is more appropriate.”
The councillor representing Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley said based on her own brief review of noise bylaws in a few other cities, she believes it’s possible that HRM’s noise By-law N-200 could be amended to provide greater clarity.
“It could even be about how long a noise is existing for, different times a day, whether it’s a day, whether it’s evening, weekends or weekdays,” Deagle Gammon said, adding that she was curious about whether her council colleagues had encountered similar questions and issues in recent months around the noise bylaw.
Coun. Kathryn Morse said she’d also dealt with noise bylaw complaints, especially this past summer when parks in her district of Halifax-Bedford Basin West were used for community events. She said one of the key reasons was that the community members or groups renting or using the park were unaware that “they couldn’t be that loud.”
“The music was so loud that it was almost intolerable for the people living nearby, but yet it was very difficult to enforce and it was a dispute, I guess, over how noisy it really was,” Morse said.
“And it’s difficult to enforce if we don’t have a standard that’s subjective.”
Noting that he also supported a staff report on the issue, Coun. Shawn Cleary said it would, however, be difficult to create because in addition to the exemptions to the bylaw that already exist, staff and council can and do grant exemptions for things like Halifax Pride. He added that as the bylaw is currently written, a complaint is a violation.
“How do you recreate the sound if it’s not happening at the moment? And what decibel level was it? What could it be? How do you know if I revved this engine this way that that is the same sound you heard an hour ago before you called the police,” Cleary asked.
“I think a ton of subjectivity is going to come into this objective measure of the decibel rating just by the contortions you’ll have to get into to come up with the rules around what that measurement is going to be.”
Cleary went on to say that his concern was undertaking the process only for staff to recommend maintaining the status quo.
“I can’t wait for this to come back in about, I don’t know, I’ll probably not be on council then, but it’s all good,” Cleary quipped.
Supporting Deagle Gammon’s motion but disagreeing with Cleary, Coun. Waye Mason said he believed getting a report before Cleary left council would be “very easy.” He said a comparable report was actually written and presented to council nine or 10 years ago. He had asked similar questions about the bylaw when first elected, and recalled being shown the report. He believes it could be easily updated.
“It’s always good to update bylaws. When you leave them too long, they get stale and then they become really unrepresentative,” Mason said, adding that measuring decibel levels requires special equipment and training and can’t be assessed using a cell phone.
Coun. Trish Purdy also expressed her support for the report, requesting it also address ways to ensure consistency in punitive measures when it comes to noise bylaw infractions.
“This ruins people’s lives when you’re living beside a neighbour that is just not respectful at all with noise, music, parties,” Purdy said.
“I even have a resident who’s actually moving because she cannot take the mental stress of living in that constant state of noise in her own home.”
The last councillor to speak to the issue was Coun. Patty Cuttell. She said in addition to the issues brought forward by other councillors, she wanted to know about the most common sources of noise complaints.
“One of the things that I get are roosters. People do not like roosters in the rural areas if they’re too close to other people’s homes. Fireworks, of course, barking dogs,” the councillor for Spryfield-Sambro Loop-Prospect Road said.
“But I’m just wondering in the review of the decibel (level) if there could be some indication of the common noise complaints and perhaps there’s other ways of dealing with these complaints other than through the noise bylaw.”
The motion passed unanimously.