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Condo Owners, Business Boosters, Swimmers Pan Proposed Noise Ordinance

County Board 2014 budget hearingAs the Arlington County Board moves forward on an update to its noise ordinance, owners of high-rise condominiums in Ballston, members of private swimming clubs and economic development boosters are all upset with some of county staff’s recommendations.

Staff consulted an ad hoc committee of condo owners in Ballston who want police to issue citations whenever they can hear noise in their apartments that originates from at least 50 feet away. The condo owners want the enforcement period to start at 10:00 p.m. on weeknights, 11:00 p.m. on weekends and from noon to 6:00 p.m. on Sundays.

In voting to advertise changes to the noise ordinance on Tuesday night, the County Board gave itself the flexibility to decide whether to make the minimum distance 50, 100 or 200 feet, and to decide when the noise ordinance should be enforced.

Judson McIntire spoke for a more restrictive ordinance. He bought a condominium two years ago on the second floor of the Berkeley Condominiums, at the corner of Fairfax Drive and N. Randolph Street, which is directly across the street from A-Town Bar & Grill.

“Staff has recommended that protections start at midnight,” said McIntire, who insisted that he moved to Ballston for its “vibrant mixed use” and said he loves living in the neighborhood. “We believe this is too lenient and urge the board to accept stricter enforcement times. Many Arlington residents go to bed before midnight and they expect and deserve an uninterrupted night’s sleep.”

Business owners and economic development advocates worry that provisions in the noise ordinance that prohibit “yelling, wailing, shouting, or screaming” at night in Arlington’s mixed-use corridors, including areas near Metro stations, are overly restrictive. They’re also concerned about provisions that could hold business owners and managers personally responsible for such noise coming from their patrons when they’re outside on patios or rooftop bars.

Sally Duran, a member of the Arlington Economic Commission, countered the condo owners, saying the Board should discuss any noise ordinance changes with the business community, which pays half of all taxes in Arlington, and millennials — generally, those 25-34 years of age.

“These millennials, which make up 45 percent of our population, are the ones who are living and working in Arlington and they are the driving force of businesses’ desire to be located here,” Duran said. “Obviously that’s a blessing, but it’s also creating a little bit of noise… The county needs to holistically study the issues associated with the lively, energetic and sometimes messy environment created by the nightlife uses in urban and mixed-use environments.”

The Board hasn’t given any indication on which direction it prefers. It is advertising the noise ordinance for various enforcement times, to be as broad as possible. It can vote on later hours when it holds its public hearing and likely adopts the noise ordinance at its meeting next month.

One other sticking point among the public was proposed noise restrictions on private swimming clubs, which are located in residential neighborhoods and which hold swim meets during the warmer weather months. Swim club representatives have expressed concern that the new ordinance would make it illegal for fans to cheer on swimmers and divers, particularly on weekend mornings.

Staff recommended these clubs hold no more than 10 meets a year, submit an annual noise management plan and ensure “measures are in place to limit the extent to which noise sources used in the conduct of athletic contests and other activities are audible on properties at least 200 feet from the noise source. ”

“Swim and dive meets have been held at all these community pools for more than 50 years without an issue ever arising,” said Lander Allin, who lives in the Arlington Forest neighborhood. “The ordinance as proposed is so restrictive and burdensome that it puts us at risk of civil and criminal penalties for staging athletic events for our children. It would require us to take very expensive steps to fix a problem that does not exist.”

The Board is expected to vote on a final version of the revised noise ordinance as soon as next month.

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