Hefty New Fines Proposed for Noise Ordinance

by ARLnow.com October 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm 9,625 94 Comments

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board is expected to vote to advertise a proposed set of changes to the county’s 37-year-old noise control ordinance.

Among the proposed changes, county staff is recommending an increase in the fine for a noise violation from $25 to a maximum of $2,500. Jail time would also be possible under the revised ordinance.

The county started the process of revising the ordinance in 2009, which the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a provision in Virginia Beach’s noise control ordinance — a “reasonable person” standard for judging noise violations — was “unconstitutionally void due to its vagueness.”

Arlington’s current ordinance contains the same “reasonable person” standard. At the moment, the only enforceable parts of the ordinance require police or inspectors to either use a volume meter to see if noise is above a set threshold, or to catch someone engaging in a “prohibited act,” like idling an engine for too long or sounding a car horn for reasons other than as an “emergency warning signal.”

The revised ordinance will help with enforcement of the ordinance by clarifying how sound level meters are to be used to determine violations.

Under the ordinance, construction and special event noise above 90 dB will be prohibited. According to the staff report, it also “strengthens requirements to have developers and owners determine and provide industry-standard sound mitigation solutions for noise sources at construction sites.”

The threshold for vehicle noise will be 70-90 dB, depending on the vehicle’s speed and weight, and the threshold for other sources of noise will be 55-70 dB, depending on which part of the county the noise is impacting (residential, commercial, etc.).

The new ordinance also clarifies some of the “prohibited acts.” For instance, it will prohibit residents from playing music or blasting their TV so loud that it can be heard in another apartment or house at least 20 feet away, or in an adjacent yard at least 50 feet away.

The county government and its contractors are exempt from the ordinance.

While the ordinance calls for a warning to be issued to violators before any citations or criminal charges, it dramatically strengthens the penalties for those who continue to violate the ordinance unabated.

Violation of the ordinance is a basic misdemeanor, but under the proposed changes will carry a criminal fine of between $100 and $2,500, plus the possibility of up to 30 days in jail. And each calendar day in violation constitutes a separate offense. Civil penalties are another enforcement option, with civil fines of up to $250 for the first violation and up to $500 for each subsequent violation.

The Arlington County Police Department will be responsible for enforcement of the ordinance, along with inspectors from the county’s Community Planning, Housing and Development Department. Arlington Police Chief M. Douglas Scott says the department has been working with county staff to revise the ordinance.

“We have had staff working as part of the group that developed the proposed ordinance,” he told ARLnow.com. “We are confident the proposed ordinance will empower our officers in a way to take enforcement action if necessary for violations of the ordinance on police related calls. Our ultimate goal is voluntary compliance with noise related calls and we will only resort to enforcement if that compliance is not achieved.”

Enforcement of the revised ordinance is not expected to have an impact on the county’s bottom line, but additional ACPD and CPHD staff time will likely be required.

Should the County Board vote in favor of the request to advertise, a public hearing on the noise ordinance changes will be held on Dec. 8, 2012. After that, the Board will consider the ordinance amendment for final adoption.

  • Thes

    Interesting. Just one public hearing in December for a total revision of the noise ordinance? Must not be very controversial…

    • Jesus Rock

      Even more interesting is the article doesn’t post anyting regarding the times. Is Arl Co going to enforce this 24-7 or just in the ‘quiet’ times? I’m a homeowner and my next door neighbor invites the band over at least once during the week (usually twice). He lives in mommy and daddy’s house who conveniently live down the street and around the corner. My entire house shakes until 9pm which apparently is perfectly legal. We have to turn the TV up to max volume and it still doesn’t completely drown out the noise. In certain residential zones the noise curfew should not start at 9pm on a weeknight but more like 7pm. My pregnant wife gets up at 4:45am and is on her feet all day (nurse). I’m sure things will get much better when the baby comes.

  • JohnB

    Can they add to the prohibited acts list posting in all caps on Arlnow.com’s comment section?

    • that guy


  • HonkyCat

    sounding a car horn for reasons other than as an “emergency warning signal.”

    Does “hey buddy, the light turned green” count?

    • happycyclist


      “get onto the sidewalk, idiot!”

      • Gonzo


        “you’re hot girl!”

    • Malaka

      Yes it does. I was in traffic court when someone tried to protest a ticket he got for that….he failed and had to pay the fine. That’s an existing traffic law though – so not sure why we would need a noise ordinance one too?

    • Or for smiling

      Have anything to do with the “honk for smiles” or whatever campaign was happening?

      • nom de guerre

        The signs associated with the Happy Sign Holders were changed to “Honk If You Love Hemorrhoids.”

    • Soarlslacker

      Maybe it will stop the crazy lady from sitting in the alley and blowing her horn for 20 minutes because county workers were cleaning the gravel and debris out of the alley and she was too stupid to back up and go the other way. I had to go outside and ask her to stop blowing the horn.

  • Mike Honcho

    Better turn your C-Span down, no one wants to hear the House Ways and Means committee going ham.

    • Jack Tors

      Going ham? Nice. But your lingo might be a bit too fresh for this crowd.

  • Big Spender

    Helicopter noise?

    How about noise from highways?

    I’d like to see how that could be enforced, oh wait, the county decided to put those things there and not give a damn about its residents in the first place..

    • This really drives me nuts

      I am so tired of listening to people complain about highways/air traffic and the noise the produce when everyone stays here or came here for the convenience of the location. If you are so bothered by the city style that is happening in the area why do you stay? There are plenty of more suburban areas outside of Arlington. They have bigger back yards, more side roads and less development. You can’t have it all. Make a choice and then just stop whining.

      • Thes

        I’ve lived in the area for decades and over that time I have learned that there is more to it than just yes or no. Airplane can be designed to be more quiet. They can be operated near residential areas to be more quiet. And the misery can be concentrated in one spot (as it is now) or spread over a wider area so it’s more infrequent for any one resident. Airplane noise is truly a health hazard and it’s worth reducing. (According to a study cited on Wikipedia, aircraft noise clearly and significantly impairs health, with, for example, a day-time average sound pressure level of 60 decibel increasing coronary heart disease by 61% in men and 80% in women. As another indicator, a night-time average sound pressure level of 55 decibel increased the risk of heart attacks by 66% in men and 139% in women.)

        • Wiki

          Wiki is always right.

        • Walter Zimmie

          So glad that the voters rejected your silly campaign because it saves us from such silly comments that could possibly matter.

        • Lauren

          Then don’t move near an airport. It’s not like its hidden and it was here before the majority of folks on our area were born.

  • UYD Fan

    “The county government and its contractors are exempt from the ordinance.”

    I see what you did there. Just like the trash, sorry campaign signs, all over the street.

    • Carol_R

      Yeah, why are they except!

  • bman

    not many cars with fart can mufflers anymore

  • Sherriff Gonna Getcha

    what about the moans from the whale next door when she is mating with her man?

  • Deadite

    If this means d-bag motorcycle owners will finally be fined for noise violations, I’m in favor of it. It may be about 70 years overdue, but I’m in favor of it.

    • KRS

      Amen to that.

    • Trolly Troll

      Obviously they have thought about the revenue in fines on Memorial Day.

      • Cap’t Omar


    • P.D.

      Especially the ones who gun their engines at 3:00 a.m.

      • Jack Tors

        We all pray they hit a pebble and get a third degree case of road rash.

  • QED

    What about the excruciating noise the garbage trucks make when they flip over & shake off the bins at 7 AM? Every morning I think that there’s gotta be someone out there inventing a more efficient, quiet & well.. more of a 21-st century garbage pick-up truck.. SMDH

  • CW

    Maybe this will require the contractors on the Washington/11th project in Clarendon to stem the 24/7 dump truck parade. Glad I don’t live on that block anymore.

  • Becoming indifferent

    Maybe this will finally shut up my a-hole neighbors.

  • Mick Way

    What about drunk 20-somethings at 2 a.m. on the deck of the group-house across from your back yard?

    • Arlington Cat

      Or the ones that park in the neighborhoods off Clarendon on a Saturday night. At about 2:30 AM Sunday morning, like clockwork, they return to the block where they parked their car a few hours before, and find the car missing and presumably towed.

      Thes is what you hear at a very loud decibel level;

      “OH F*&*&*&*&*&&&*&&&*&((*&&&&&*&&^%^CK!”

      repeated three or four times.

      • R. Griffon

        Do they really tow for parking in zoned areas? I’ve never heard of that.

    • Ballston

      You can now call and complain and they’ll be fined.

      • Jack Tors

        Agreed. And to those bimbos that live on Patrick Henry, it’s getting expensive.

  • Big Spender

    “a ‘prohibited act,’ like idling an engine for too long”


    • Deadite

      This is probably in reference to trucks and motorcycles. At least, I hope.

    • Novadweller

      Yes Deadite is correct. There are laws regarding trucks idling in VA, for instance at a loading dock… I think it is something like 15 minutes. It is violated all the time.

      • HonkyCat

        That should be an EPA violation.

  • 350sbc

    So, what about the airplanes coming in/out of DCA that fly over Rosslyn? Will the county fine the airlines if the planes come in too late/early?

  • Arlington Cat

    Or low flying pentagon helicopters over Fairlington?

    • QED

      Only if A’ton C has air rights above those actual properties

  • Novadweller

    Hmmmm….I wonder where leaf blowers fall in this?? Oh how I hope this rids us of leaf blowers…

    • Quoth the Raven

      What’s wrong with leaf blowers? Don’t you like the neighbor’s lawn service guys blowing leaves from their yard to yours?

      • Ashton Heights

        Leafblowers make me feel like I’m Solomon. Which neighbors yard shall I blow my leaves untoward? Whom has grieved me the fiercest?

    • BlueSkies

      Oh, yes, leaf blowers! I was going to ask if this applied to my neighbor who plays piano and sings the *same* song *every* night around midnight – but wow, getting rid of leaf blowers might be even better.

      • Ren

        Leaf blowers blow. I like leaves more than grass anyway. Reminds me of when I had my first job working at an ice creamery and my coworker warned me that whenever the owner was around, I should make myself look busy by making sure he saw me wiping a dirty rag around. I look at the immigrants we pay to mindlessly cart those pollution/noise machines around for hours, all so we don’t have to endure the untidiness that is a few leaves and grass clippings on the ground.

        • Sheriff Gonna Getcha

          why dont they just suck the leaves up and bag them for you automatically instead of just blowing them around? leaf blowers are so pointless. I never got the reasoning behind it.

  • Brian

    How about church bells? I would love to see those prohibited. The one near my office is so annoying.

    • Say it isn’t so

      Or at Christmas when the church plays their Christ-mas songs so loud that I can hear them two blocks away like they are right next door. Churches always get a pass on stuff like this but I’m the heathen! bah humbug!

  • JimPB

    :…Idling an engine too long.” Probably wastes gas, but if the noise produced does not exceed the criteria, where’s the noise violation?

    Electric generators around here (far North Arlington) do violate a reasonable noise level. Better mufflers would probably eliminate this problem.

    Gas powered lawn mowers and other yard care equipment often exceeds a reasonable noise level. Better mufflers would probably eliminate this problem, too, OR switch to electric powered and/or hand powered equipment.

    • Dude Where’s My Car

      You really don’t want an 18-wheeler deciding to camp overnight outside your bedroom window. Even if it’s just idling the entire time.

  • UptonHiller

    Before anybody gets too far ahead of themselves, it looks like the noise levels are not being modified, just the testing and investigating procedures.

    • Thes

      Looks like they are getting rid of the prohibition on “beer pong” parties in the backyard at 3 a.m. (unless you have a decibel meter). Is that a change?

  • novasteve

    So how will this impact the next Rolling Thunder?

    • nom de guerre

      It will increase the number of “dry runs” that will be performed prior, during and after the event.

      • Lauren

        Good one

  • HighViewPunk

    I hope the County Government uses the “Big Voice” to call out violators.

  • Spinal Tap

    I guess I’ll only turn my amplifiers up to “9” then

  • Bubb Rubb

    Dang! And I just got my new whistle tips installed…


  • Anon

    The amount of whining from people who live in a city in this thread is amusing.

    If you don’t like noise – move to the country side. I heard it’s quiet there……

    • Sam

      This is such a tired response.

    • Deadite

      Still got those dickbag Harley riders out there, too.

      • nom de guerre

        There’s a rock out there that is missing your presence on its underside.

        • Deadite

          Because I don’t like wannabe toughguys purposely disabling their mufflers and revving their Harleys at 130 decibels I should go live under a rock? How does that make sense?

  • RightWingWhacko

    Geez, you people sound like a lot of fun to have a beer with.
    Complaining is always easy….especially if you never thought about it until reading about the idea.

    • Mitt Romney

      AS you are my demographic, I would love to agree with you. Howeve, I really have no deia what the [email protected]#$ you are talking about.
      I thankyou for supporting my campaign for me paying even less tax though.

  • ArlWoman

    1. Early this afternoon, I had to stop answering email with Siri when a construction truck parked for more than 30 minutes as he remained at my local intersection. I guess he was lost.

    I have a neighbor who does drilling and jackhammering for a small project at 3:17 AM on weeknights. Has happened four times in the last week.

    Local foot traffic results in excessive volume when the drunks discover the consequences of illegally parking in our residential neighborhood. Less parking fees equals more beer.

    And, just because you are waiting for the bus, you do not have the right to crank up your alleged music.

    Maybe this will help prevent some hearing loss of our younger generations.

  • Repetitive Noise Hatr

    My least favorite, is the incessant truck backing up alarm noise that the Safeway trucks use for ten minutes per trip all night long. They now mimic every alarm sound on my phone and I keep thinking that its time to get up for work. It used to stop between the hours of 10 pm and 6am, but now goes on all night.
    Seriously, if you are too stupid to see something that large slowly back into you, do you deserve to live?

  • Nillan Alex

    How about the people that let their LARGE BARKING dogs out in their yard – and leave the house, and the dog keeps barking for 6 to 8 hours. Straight. And you e-mail them to ask them PLEASE bring your dogs inside. It is now almost mid night. Thsi has been going on for a year and a half. Animal control has been called multiple times, cops have been called – and the noice ordinance people – who could fine the guy has showed up three times – at around noon. Just to find out there is no barking at this house. Un beliveable red tape! and NOBODY is enforcing any law, while my family is all awake at night. (and we have dogs our self as well, and like animals!)

    • ordinance enforcement

      easy with the all caps their mister

      • Interesting

        Another example of county enforcement personnel excluding themselves from any responsibility to follow the rules. The grammar police should fine you.

    • sally

      What is a “large bark”? Or did Nillan mean large dogs that bark or dogs with loud barks?

      • DOG

        BARK !!

        • Sheriff Gonna Getcha

          report them to animal welfare…… it’ll work.

  • bobbytiger

    Get back to me when the county enforces such an ordinance.

  • Jeff Howard

    VA loves jail time. Just ask David Albo. That guy is the one who pioneered traffic laws that put you in jail if you miss a turn signal.

    This isn’t a bad ordinance, but jail time is expensive and costly for tax payers.

    What is the obsession in this state with exploding the penalties for small infractions.

    I’ll answer that one…everyone here is drunk on a power trip.

  • Mc

    This is a great development. There has been a noticable degradation in environmental noise quality in recent years, especially under-muffler-ed motorcycles have become more common. Noise pollution is a real health hazard and deserves control and enforcement.

  • Thank you (and sympathy) for the person finally mentioning barking—–incessant, hours-long barking with no recourse, no enforcement for those kept awake, not able to carry on conversations, then end up ‘whiny’ or the bad guys when they ask the owners to control the barking. Is IS a violation of the noise ordinance, but not enforced. Unlike customary, expected city/suburban noises, barking is nearly entirely correctable and 100% rude and self-absorbed on the part of the lazy and un-neighborly owners

  • Deadite

    The best case scenario here will be a noise ordinance that leads to a de-facto leaf blower ban, which causes some asshole on a Harley to wipe out on a pile of wet leaves. Boom, two birds with one stone.

  • Skeptical

    All I ask is that this be enforced on the “party house” up my street where they think nothing of making balmy summer evenings hideous with crap dee-jayed and amplified back yard parties. I don’t pay ass-reaming Arlington taxes to have to listen to some nearby jerk’s idea of Fun Tunes through my closed windows.

  • that reminds me…

    how many decibels is typical for the sound of two bocce balls colliding?

    (if two bocce balls collide and a BCA protester does not hear it, do they make a sound?)

    (what is the sound of one bocce ball colliding?)

    • The Inner Bocce

      Existential bocce…

  • Carol_R

    Does this mean a ban on gasoline powered lawn mowers? Those things are obnoxiously loud.

  • pdarlington

    What about AC units for commercial and apartment buildings? Some of them are LOUD! The one behind my backyard is 60 DB.

  • KP

    I hope this takes care of the ice cream truck that sits and plays his music for 10-30 minutes everyday.

    • Old Man Winter

      I’ll take care of that one for you !!

  • AnotherMark

    I picked up a free SPL meter app this weekend after reading the original article, and I tested it on some of the numbers found on Wiki Answers:
    •average conversation = 65dB
    •heavy street traffic 5 feet away = 90dB
    •loud rock music at concert = 112dB (or more)
    The readings I got in those situations were very close to those numbers; however, most sites advised that the numbers themselves do not necessarily equate to how loud you perceive a sound because the human ear reacts differently to different frequencies.

  • ByeByeQuota

    And you wondered where the fearless taxers/leaders
    have been huddling since being outed for their quota
    system… this is what they have come up in their
    quest to balance their (personal) budgets.

    Let’s go after the “noisemakers”. Sure they’re an easy target.
    Until they stop coming and spending money.

    Then we can look at Maryland’s prop 7 — hey let’s get everyone
    addicted to gambling so we can pretend not to raise taxes.

    • Sheriff Gonna Getcha

      well if everyone just worked harder and made more money, taxes would go up automatically on their own. So its actually everyone’s fault, including you.

      the govt doesnt get people addicted to gambling, zero willpower and a terrible life do though.

  • Alex

    If I set up a noise meter and camera on my back porch and it reaches 90 dB, can they fine everyone at that moment behind my house on I-66?


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