Leesburg Town Council members are continuing to ponder what, if any, changes should be made to noise rules.
Although it has debated changes in recent years, the Town Code section governing noise has not been updated since 2009 when changes were made to comply with a Virginia Supreme Court ruling. Then, the new standards were modeled after the Town of Blacksburg’s noise ordinance, which included definitions for amplified equipment; applied a 50-foot “plainly audible” standard; and placed the nightly cut-off time at 8 p.m. When the debate was renewed in 2014, mainly to address complaints about live music performances in the downtown area, the council considered whether to regulate noise based on decibel levels, but ended up not changing its adopted regulations from 2009.
Since the council again broached the subject in September, public opinion has appeared to be split. While some, including many downtown business owners, have petitioned the council to at least consider extending the noise curfew to 10 p.m. on weekends, others have reminded the council that it was the residents, not downtown’s booming nightlife scene, that have been there longer and their quality of life should be considered.
In addition to the 8 p.m. cutoff for amplified noise, the town also has a permit process in place where businesses must apply 48 hours in advance.
The council appeared closer during Monday night’s work session to a vote on the matter.
Town Attorney Barbara Notar posed questions to council members to identify what changes had majority support. She pointed to noise regulations adopted by Loudoun County which could serve as a model for the town. Loudoun’s regulations have a “plainly audible” standard at 100 feet, and a stipulation that noise should not be able to be heard within a residence with its doors and windows closed. Loudoun’s noise cutoff is not until 11 p.m., though the council did not appear inclined to consider a cutoff beyond 10 p.m. on weekends.
Mayor Kelly Burk said she has heard a desire from residents that violators of the noise rules should face repercussions.
“Their message to me was they want to see some [penalty] immediately. If that offender breaks rules then they can’t for the next week … be allowed to have any music,” she said.
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said she favored retaining the permitting process so there is “a vehicle for some sort of enforcement and repercussion.”
Currently, violators of the noise regulations are subject to civil penalties. While the Leesburg Police Department cannot enforce civil penalties, officers do respond to complaints about noise violations and then enforcement would come by way of the town zoning staff.
Notar suggested considering increased penalties for repeat offenders, or revocation of permits.
Councilman Josh Thiel, who raised the idea for extending the noise cut-off to the council in September, again said he favored extending the curfew to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings. He acknowledged that there remained work to do and said that compromise would be needed on the sides of both residents and businesses to find an amicable solution.
“There’s a fine line between providing for what businesses need and want, and what residents need and want,” he said.
Notar said she would compile feedback from the council to draft up changes to the noise rules which could then come back before the council for a vote and possible adoption.
Vice Mayor Marty Martinez was absent for Monday’s work session.