Thursday, January 25, 2007

Milton may muffle high school's noise

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Anderson Lee of contributed to this article.
Published on: 01/25/07

Joe Creamer was sitting in his living room one July evening, feeling the noise pulsing against his body. The windows were rattling with every beat from the rap song blaring from the oversized speakers of Milton High School stadium about 100 feet away.

And it wasn't the first time. He marched to the control room where a parent volunteer was jamming out and asked him to turn it down.The parent said no, the speakers belonged to the school district and he was in his rights to use them. Moreover, Creamer says the parent threatened to have him arrested for trespass if he didn't leave.

Milton High School; Rude Neighbor.

"When they started the new school, they promised it would only be for five home games, but there's five varsity games, five JV games and five freshman games," he said. "The noise is deafening. The whole house shakes. It comes through my house. There's no place you can hide."

Creamer's house predates the school, which opened in 2005, by about 12 years. School District spokeswoman Susan Hale said the school has tried to work out a mutually satisfactory agreement.

"We have not turned a deaf ear to his complaints," she said. "We have been very responsive to his request."

Creamer disagreed, and has turned to a sympathetic City Council, which is now drafting an ordinance that would say no to noise. The City Council will take up the issue on Feb. 1.

Creamer is not alone in his point of view. Thirty year resident Tim Enloe, who was raised and still resides one street over on Bethany road, support Creamer's efforts.

"Many of us attended various meetings with the Board of Education relaying multiple concerns including noise. This was before the school was even constructed and those seven families still had their homes. Our points fell on a deaf ear,the families were removed, and all the negatives that we predicted have become reality. It is time that this government entity had someone to answer to and I believe that someone is the Milton City Council."

Councilman Rick Mohrig said the ordinance will make reasonable allowances for school activities, but said residents need some protection.

"I think people expect a level of peace and quiet where they live and work, especially where they live," Mohrig said. "If people won't be considerate, their neighbors should have an option."

Milton's proposed noise law is based on one the city of Lilburn adopted in 2001. The ordinance differs from many others in that it doesn't set specific scientific limits for noise. Instead, it basically it says if a reasonable person with reasonable hearing can hear the noise inside his home, then it's too loud.

"Only chronic violators who refuse to respect the rights of others are issued citations," said Lilburn Public Safety Director John Davidson. "Usually, if you ask people to turn it down, they will."

He said even though the ordinance is based on such vague terms as "unreasonable noise" and "abnormally high," the ordinance hasn't been challenged in court. Mark Scott, the city's attorney, noted that laws based on noise meters can be challenged, too.

"It's difficult to keep decibel meters calibrated, and they are easily challenged on this basis," he said in an e-mail. "It is based on what a reasonable person would objectively perceive to be offensive. That is the standard that a court must apply."

The council is debating what exceptions should be allowed in order to accommodate things like celebrations, public gatherings and construction projects.

Council member Tina D'Aversa Williams said she favors some objective standard for measuring noise levels, and when and where higher levels of noise will be tolerated. She also would like the ordinance to be fairly limited in its exceptions.

"We can't leave everything to be subjective," she said. "But there are times when variances need to be granted."

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