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Can MHS fight City Hall?
Milton ordinance could limit crowd, stadium noise at Friday night games.
February 15, 2007
A high school football game without the roar of the crowd? An outdoor graduation without fireworks?
A proposed noise ordinance in Milton has local high school officials concerned about its effect on activities at the school, many of which are held outdoors such as football games and marching band practice.
If passed, the ordinance would limit "unreasonable" noise if it met three of five conditions. Those conditions include if the noise is
• between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.;
• plainly audible inside a dwelling;
• amplified by a machine
• abnormally high or low [as judged] by a listener with normal hearing;
• and is constant for at least 5 minutes, or is repeated at least three times within 30 minutes.
The ordinance as proposed is not directed specifically at school activities, but the new school would be one of the few establishments in the city affected by the law. The law also seeks to control noise from construction equipment and lawn tools during early morning hours and late at night. Council is set to vote on the ordinance this month.
Milton High School Principal Ron Tesch said noise coming from many sports activities or marching band practice meets at least three of the five conditions, and therefore would be unlawful.
"I don't want to have the Milton Marching Mimes," laughed Tesch during a meeting with Milton City Council members last week to discuss the ordinance.
Tesch told the council he has worked hard to limit noise from the school, and detailed steps administration has taken to appease residents of nearby homes, some of which are less than 200 feet from the school boundaries.
"We've tweaked a lot of things since last year [when the school opened] to help alleviate concerns we've had over noise," said Tesch. "We're making the best effort we can to get the sound under control with the resources we have."
When asked, he noted there have been no more than five complaints about noise in the two years the school has been open. Those complaints were centered mainly on the sound of the loudspeaker during games or music during practices. Members of the City Council also confirmed receiving only a handful of complaints about school noise, again from the same residents also complaining to the school.
Tesch said he takes all complaints seriously, going so far as to take a decibel reader to areas outside the stadium on game nights to judge noise levels. What he has found is the noise is not unreasonably louder than other sources of noise, such as passing cars.
The school has worked on realigning speakers, limiting the times when the stadium's loudspeakers could be used, and even keeping percussion members of the marching band indoors during practice.
Tesch even tested a mobile loudspeaker with good results. However the $40,000 price tag was beyond the means of the school. He admits mistakes have been made in the past with regards to excessive noise, but the school is committed to being a good neighbor.
He told the council the school was in an unusual situation since relocating two years ago from downtown Alpharetta, where it stood for more than 80 years as one of the oldest schools in Fulton County. At that location, the school was also surrounded by homes, but the city passed a variance to its ordinance exempting noise from organized youth activities.
"When we left downtown Alpharetta, I had many people saying the thing they were going to miss most was the sounds of Friday night football," said Tesch.
Council members acknowledged that Milton High School is one of the most visible aspects of the new city, but clearly want to balance the needs of the school with the concerns of the community.
"No one from the city is saying we want to eliminate school activities," stressed Milton Council member Rick Mohrig. "We just want a balance."
Milton resident Jose Creamer told the city council during its recent work session he fully supports the noise ordinance, and also wants to make sure residents have the right to weigh in on any variances. The proposed noise ordinance provides for a variance, which Milton High School could apply for in specific events.
The noise ordinance in Milton has sparked the attention of at least one state politician. State Rep. Charles "Chuck" Martin, R-Alpharetta, whose son was a standout on the Milton football team, said he has problems with "perceived perception of a noise violation", written in the ordinance.
"From what I read, and I'm not an attorney, I think it is inherently unconstitutional to ask a police officer to make a ruling on what is 'unreasonable' noise without a clear measurement," said Martin. "It's like asking them to make a ruling on what is speeding [without designated speed limits.]"
City Attorney Mark Scott said he saw potential legal issues with an ordinance based on decibel ratings, and therefore opted for "perceived perception."
Martin said he hoped the city and school system come to a consensus that considers the needs of the thousands and kids and parents associated with the school system and the needs of the community.
Resident John Miller, who addressed the Milton City Council during a recent work session, echoed Martin's sentiment.
"I just want to make sure we do not keep schools from having Friday night football," said Miller.