Council set to enforce noise violations

Landscaping equipment that growls and screeches all summer long has had a devastating effect on the ability of Sheera Stern, of Newman Street, to do her job.

Stern works from home, where she runs online educational courses. Even with windows shut and using noise-canceling headphones, the leaf blowers and riding mowers that scrape and shape her neighbors’ lawns is so loud it interferes with her ability to do her job.

Stern came before Borough Council in February to impart her tale and ask for relief. It’s possible she will get some after Council approved a noise ordinance that mirrors the noise regulations imposed by the state. By aligning the ordinance with the state’s rules, Metuchen now has grounds to enforce its own ordinance, which it didn’t have before, according to Borough Administrator Jennifer Maier.

“If someone complains, we then reach out to the county and have them come out and do the metering for us, because they’re trained to do that,” Maier said in an interview Friday. The plan is that Metuchen will eventually have its own employees, probably police officers, trained to measure noise levels.

lawnmowingThe ordinance governs power tools, emergency work, home maintenance tools, landscaping and yard maintenance equipment used by property owners, commercial operators and public employees. Excluding emergency work, these devices can’t be used between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. unless they meet noise limits set forth in the ordinance. They also have to be used with mufflers to reduce sound, the ordinance said.

Noise limits include sound levels of no more than 65 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 50 decibels from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., when measured outside a residential property, according to the ordinance. The level is 65 decibels all day and night outside a commercial facility.

Indoors, decibel levels fall to 55 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 40 decibels from 10 p.m. and 7 a.m, according to the ordinance.

The rules also govern noise made by playing music and animals. For animals, violations will occur after than five minutes of noises like barking, howling or yelping without interruption, or making noise intermittently for 20 minutes, the ordinance said.

Stern told Council she used a noise measurement app on her iPhone to measure noise levels of landscaping equipment, which got as high as 104 decibels inside her house.

“Without limits, landscapers will use as much equipment as they possibly can at the same time in order to rush through a job,” Stern said. “That includes leaf blowers … lawn mowers large enough to mow a golf course.”

It’s not clear to me the borough could come out and dictate to a landscaper exactly how many machines he should use at once. Or have a police officer stand there measuring noise while the landscapers use their machines to make sure they don’t go over limit. I honestly don’t know how that would work or if that’s even a good idea. I mean, how long does it take for a landscaper to mow a lawn?

I have a pretty small yard and, because I have yet to buy a shed, I employ a landscaping firm. They are in and out in about 20 minutes. And yes it’s pretty loud, so if I’m working from home I generally use that time to take a break, have a coffee and talk to my wife. They also get to one of my neighbor’s homes every Thursday morning (in the warm months) around 7 a.m. and bang it out in about 20 minutes.

We’ll see how this plays out. The borough will deal with complaints on a case by case basis, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when a landscaper gets called out for being too loud.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

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