Noise not needed in Lewes: Strengthen ordinance!

May 27, 2014

I am pleased to see a renewed interest in the problems of unnecessary noise in the City of Lewes, with a recent editorial recommending that city get rid of its noise ordinance (in response to a recent complaint concerning amplified music at the Lewes Ferry Terminal, a somewhat bizarre conclusion), a follow-up letter concerning the potential impact of the city’s noise ordinance on community events, and another misstating the circumstances of the denial of a variance to Irish Eyes some years ago.

Noise of any type is an insidious form of pollution, as even the best music and most interesting speech becomes noise at a distance from its source and the tolerance to noises of different types can vary substantially in the population. This being the case, it seems prudent to limit amplified music and speech to confined spaces where it can best be appreciated and to limit its spread, as much as possible, beyond the range where it turns into noise. This can be effectively done by limiting all outdoor amplification except under strict supervision of the city.

The City of Lewes’s ordinance and the State of Delaware’s Regulations Governing the Control of Noise are designed to meet this standard.  Both the ordinance and the regulations are responsive to complaints and I urge everyone to complain vociferously (and loudly!) to the city and state when they feel that a particular source of noise is disturbing the enjoyment of their homes, properties, and the shared spaces of the City of Lewes.

In most cases the initial complaints in Lewes should go to the Lewes Police Department (with follow-up with the mayor and council), although complaints related to premises holding liquor licenses can also go directly to the Delaware Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement.

The City of Lewes does not need to get rid of its ordinance, it needs to expand and enforce the one it has.  In particular, no commercial establishment or non-commercial entities should have the right to broadcast unnecessary sounds beyond their premises without application to the city, notification to the owners of nearby properties that will be most affected, and an opportunity for mediation of potential conflicts.

Each entity should be limited to a small number of events per year; each event should be limited to a fraction of the available daylight hours; no more than one event should be allowed on a given day; and the total number of events should be limited each year.

Although the city’s ordinance focuses on commercial noise generation, it needs to be expanded to non-commercial entities (including the Lewes Ferry Terminal, churches, sporting, social and fraternal associations, and others) who organize and/or operate secondary commercial enterprises in support of their primary non-commercial missions.

To my knowledge, there has never been a complaint about noise associated with community events, parades and sports and the suggestion that the Lewes ordinance and Delaware regulations would have any impact on these events has no apparent basis in fact or history. However, if individuals are concerned about this issue, there is no good reason why specific exemptions could not be built into a strengthened city code.

A recent letter from a non-resident of the City of Lewes indicated falsely that a group of other non-residents challenged outdoor music at Irish Eyes in Lewes some years ago. First, no challenge was ever made against music.

The only challenge that was made was against the terms of a “patio” license for Irish Eyes. Irish Eyes requested a variance from the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission to allow for outdoor amplification of music; only the amplification was challenged and this challenge was thankfully successful.

To my knowledge, Irish Eyes continues to offer musical entertainment in the enclosed parts of their premises.  All of the challengers to this variance, in contrast to the letter writer’s statement, were full-time Lewes residents, most of whom also work in the city or in the surrounding area. Although we would have been grateful, at the time, for support from part-time residents and from other nearby property owners who also enjoy the peace and quiet of our community, none was forthcoming.

It is not possible or desirable to do away with all noise in the City of Lewes.  It is, however, possible to set a conservative standard for noise that meets the mixed needs of residents and visitors and to rigorously enforce this standard to balance the needs of this diverse community.

We all have rights to enjoy “busy days and quiet nights” in Lewes. And the city council has the responsibility to achieve this goal.

Bill Ullman


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