LACONIA — In the wake of several controversies arising from complaints about excessive noise and licensing outdoor sound systems, the Government Operations and Ordinances Committee last night drafted changes to the noise and licensing ordinances, which will be presented to the City Council later this month and to a public hearing next month.
The noise ordinance, chapter 167 of the city code, stipulates that is unlawful for any person or corporation to make "any loud, unreasonable noise or any noise which would annoy disturb, injure or endanger the comfort, repose, health, peace, safety, convenience, welfare and prosperity of a reasonable person" within the city limits.
The committee suggested two major additions to the ordinance. The first, which would apply to apply to residential and commercial properties throughout the city would specify that a noise "plainly audible," in the judgment of the police, within 50 feet of the property line of the property where it originates, particularly between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday would represent a violation. City Manager Scott Myers explained that the ordinance closely echoed ordinances in Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth.
The second change would apply to persons "yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling or singing in the street, particularly between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. , would also constitute a violation. Myers said that Portsmouth had a similar ordinance to address unruly crowds spilling out of bars and clubs at closing time.
The committee also proposed extending the hours for the operation of outdoor sound equipment. Currently, outdoor loudspeakers cannot be operated later than 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The committee recommended extending the hours to 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., respectively, and allowing loudspeakers to operate until 11 p.m. on the weekday night before federal holidays.
The committee will also recommend stiffening the penalties of repeated violations of the noise ordinance, which currently provides for a fine of not more than $250. At the suggestion of Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1), who chairs the committee, a graduated schedule of fines — $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for the third — will be proposed. "A fine of $250 per night could be chump change for a business doing well," Doyle remarked.
Joe Driscoll, an innkeeper at The Weirs who has complained of noise from music venues on Lakeside Avenue, told the committee that the ordinance would only be as effective as the enforcement. He noted that while the Planning Board may impose restrictions or conditions, as it did in approving the plan to offer live music at the Tower Hill Tavern, the police are responsible for enforcement.
Driscoll also suggested that if an individual or business applied for frequent or recurring loudspeaker permits to operate an outdoor sound system, abutters and neighbors should be notified and offered an opportunity to comment. The committee agreed and asked Myers to address the issue in the recommendation to be presented to the council.
The committee intends to forward its recommendations to the City Council at its meeting on September 28 together with a request to schedule a public hearing during the City Council meeting on October 13.