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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Noise ordinance sparks debate

After playing audience to over two hours of public commentary last night, Hanover's Board of Selectmen chose to delay voting on its controversial noise ordinance.

The ordinance if passed would have restricted noise disturbances audible outside of the I-Zone between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. -- potentially impacting many off-campus and some Greek houses on Wheelock street.

Although Vice-Chair of the Hanover Board of Selectmen Katherine Connolly had told The Dartmouth previously that the ordinance was likely to pass, the future approval of the ordinance seems pretty unclear after yesterday's meeting.

If the proposed law is not eventually adopted into town code, pertinent cases would continue to fall under the State's provisions for Disorderly Conduct, which offer New Hampshire residents the right to call in complaints based on the broad definition of acts violating the standards of "reasonable persons."

At issue at last night's meeting was whether or not a more specific local law is needed to deal with severe cases.

"The more you have in writing, the harder it is to enforce," Selectman Marilyn Black said of the precise details contained in the ordinance regarding permit applications, decibel ratings and zoning restrictions.

"Unfortunately, we have to legislate civility now -- we might as well do it carefully," Connolly said in opposing perspective.

An air of civility prevailed during the majority of discussion between Dartmouth students and other Hanover residents. Although many opponents of the ordinance were students, and the majority of supporters were community members, the lines were not strictly defined.

Prospect Avenue resident Douglas Harp stressed that the ordinance did not target all Dartmouth students, saying, "I think there have been a small number of exceptions that have been simply outrageous."

"What this boils down to is neighborliness and common decency," Harp said, describing the ordinance as "extremely fair" to both sides.

Josh Marcuse '04, advisor to Student Assembly President Molly Stutzman '02, raised concerns at the meeting that the passing of such a law would jeopardize otherwise "warm and friendly" relations with the town by provoking a reaction from a student body apt to feel a sense of hostility.

"This may produce a great deal of consternation on the part of students," Marcuse said.

Theta Delta Chi Fraternity brother Chris Lentz '02 expressed agreement with the need to develop a plan which accommodates the needs of both the College and Hanover, but called for the development of more clearly defined parameters of unacceptable conduct. Lentz also objected to use of Dartmouth's Industrial Zone as a proper boundary for the ordinance.

Several participants, including students and community members, said they would like to see a provision added to the ordinance calling for a first warning before court summons are presented.

Questions were also raised about the confusion in the text of the law as to who would pay the fines, the owner of the property or renter. Several participants spoke in favor of levying the fines against the owner of the property -- often the College itself.

Both Lentz and a community member took issue with the dollar amount of the fines permitted in the ordinance draft -- ranging from $300 to $1,000; Lentz described these figures as "absolutely excessive." Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone pointed out that the fines are intended as maximums.

Panarchy resident Janos Marton '04, who is also a member of The Dartmouth staff, suggested that a distinction be drawn between "drunken rowdiness" and such events as late night band performances.

Panarchy is among the off campus houses located deep in Hanover neighborhoods, which Town Manager Julia Griffin described as the "quintessential problem for the town."

According to Giaccone, the Hanover Police Department logs only about a half dozen complaints about West Wheelock street's houses annually. Webster avenue houses rarely elicit complaints.

The College's General Counsel Bob Donin said his office strongly agrees with the basic goal of the ordinance, but finds fault with many of its specifications. These objections center around ambiguity and over-inclusiveness in the text of the ordinance.

The current draft defines noise disturbance as "any sound, whether a continuous sound or an impulse noise, which disturbs a reasonable person with normal sensitivities." Donin described that as a "very subjective standard" which would "create potential nightmares" for those charged with upholding it.

Donin also questioned the impact the ordinance might have an essential operations of the College, such as food delivery to dining halls and constructions projects with tight schedules based on the academic calendar.

According to Griffin, the stringency of noise ordinances "tends to run the gamut. Griffin described Hanover's proposal as relatively simple and allowing for significant officer discretion.

A representative of Northeast Waste Services was also on hand to call to attention to concerns regarding his company's ability to carry out early morning "essential services." Delaying trash pick up in certain areas would create safety and traffic complications.

The Board of Selectmen have been working with drafts of the ordinance since late spring; last night's affair was the first public hearing on the issue.