Town proposes new noise regulations

by Tara Kyle | 11/19/01 6:00am

At a public hearing tonight, the Hanover Town Board of Selectman will discuss and likely vote on an ordinance that would prohibit nighttime "noise disturbance" -- a broad category which applies to construction, yard work and, of course, fraternity parties.

If added to town law, the ordinance would restrict activities audible between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. at residential properties not within the Institutional Zoning District -- or "I-zone" -- a large section of Hanover covering most Dartmouth property.

Although the majority of Dartmouth-owned facilities occupy space well within the I-zone, Hanover residents would hold the right to register complaints against a number of specified activities occurring within 300 feet of their homes.

This clause is of particular concern to houses on Wheelock Street such as Psi Upsilon and Theta Delta, which closely neighbor residential areas and churches.

"Technically, nothing is exempt," Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman said of his understanding of the proposed law.

Work on the ordinance began about a year and a half ago when approximately 250 Hanover residents signed a petition advocating legal action, according to Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Katherine Connolly.

"There are some conditions that literally keep people from sleeping," Connolly said.

Along with the operation of agricultural equipment, construction vehicles and power tools, the ordinance prohibits noise "created by operating, playing or using of any radio, television, phonograph, drum, musical instrument or any other sound amplification device; or through the conduct of noisy assembly."

On Fridays and Saturdays, the time at which the latter activities become unlawful would be pushed back to 11 p.m.

As to the ordinance's chances of approval, Board of Selectmen Chair Brian Walsh expressed uncertainty, noting, "I think there's going to be vigorous discussion."

Of the five-member board, Walsh said one selectman is strongly in favor of the ordinance as it stands, one is advocating greater restrictions and three are undecided.

Violations would carry a penalty of $300 for the first offense, $500 for the second, and $1000 for subsequent violations.

The College has no official stance on the issue as of yet, according to Redman. He noted that the college attorneys have been in communication with selectmen and will address such concerns as student activities, athletic events and groups wishing to host bands.

"I'm sure they've been looking at this with a fine-tooth comb," Redman said.

The ordinance provides an exception in which individuals or groups could apply for a permit five days in advance of an event through the Town Manager. Applicants would have to provide detailed information regarding the hours and location at which their activity would occur. Other required disclosures include the wattage, volume and decibel levels of sound produced through musical instruments or sound amplifying devices.

Connolly stressed that the ordinance is minimal compared to those passed by other municipalities.

"It seems to generate a great deal of unnecessary fear," she said, adding that the law would protect residents "subject to unreasonable stress."

The situation presents a new challenge for Student Assembly. President Molly Stutzman '02 explained that the Assembly is accustomed to engaging in dialogue on student life concerns with Dartmouth officials, but has not had recent experience with the authorities in the town of Hanover.

"This is chartering new territory for us all," Stutzman said, noting that the Assembly found out about the ordinance only within the last few days.

In the event that the ordinance is passed, the Assembly will meet with Redman and Dean of the College James Larimore to discuss possible responses.

Both Stutzman and several selectmen urged Dartmouth students to attend tonight's event.

Walsh encouraged students to participate in "the process of democracy."

"We think it's important that students are there to weigh in," Stutzman said, noting that SA will bring a delegation.

"Let us hear what you have to say," said Selectman William Baschnagel, who identified himself as undecided on the issue.

The public hearing will begin at 7:30 p.m. at 41 South Main Street in the old courtroom of the Municipal Building.