Putnam Valley Board Struggles to Find ‘Happy Medium’ With Proposed Noise Law

Following a month’s long effort to amend the town’s noise ordinance, Putnam Valley officials continue to remain divided on the appropriate sound level that would resolve issues currently disrupting some homeowners.

After receiving several complaints of people blasting their music and causing ongoing problems to their neighborhoods, Town Supervisor Sam Oliverio in October suggested officials enforce stricter laws on daytime noise produced throughout the town. That would include placing a safe decibel limit on noise emission.  

A decibel is how sound is measured.

While the town currently has a noise ordinance, it doesn’t address daytime sound and fails to place a penalty on those who violate the law. Oliverio said the absence of a decibel level has restricted officers from effectively enforcing the code.

“There’s no enforcement, there’s no fine,” Oliverio said during the Town Board’s Dec. 9 meeting. “We have nothing in our books to really protect our residents from that and part of the towns responsibility is to provide for the health and safety of its residents.”

The current amendment, which will be subject to a public hearing on Wednesday, proposes that noise levels between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. within any residentially zoned district shall not exceed 65 decibels, and between 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., noise cannot exceed 55 decibels.

Commercially zoned areas would also be subject to maintaining noise up to 65 decibels, according to the proposal.

Violators would be subject to a fine of up to $500 for each offense, imprisonment of up to 15 days, or both. The town would also be authorized to seek injunctive relief to prevent the continued violation.

While the remainder of the noise ordinance will remain intact, exemptions to the law include emergency alerts, town sponsored events, emergency repairs or maintenance work generated by the town, noise stemming from a permitted event, and generators used during a power outage. Additionally, the operation of any organ, radio, bell, chimes, or other instruments used in a place of worship would be exempt.

While the proposal is in line with neighboring municipalities, such as Carmel, board members argued 65 decibels (dBs) is too low and would restrict homeowners from engaging in common housekeeping activities, like mowing the law or cutting down a tree.

For comparison, normal breathing is measured at about 10 dBs, with regular conversation measured up to 65. A vacuum cleaner is categorized at an estimated 70 dBs, general traffic sounds is 80 dBs, and a lawnmower is measured between 85 and 90.

“If I’m cutting down my tree in my side yard, my neighbors have a problem, and boom. Now if we start that, what’s the next thing, we’re not going to be able to use leaf blowers?” board member Louie Luongo said. “It takes me three hours to do my lawn with full leaves now.”

Oliverio said he’s flexible on increasing the allowable decibels within the town, but officials suggested numbers ranging between 100 to 110 dBs. Board members also pressed a time limit needs to be specified within the law, dictating how long a disturbance would need to happen before it’s deemed a violation.

Oliverio disagreed with placing at time limit on a disturbance, explaining that the noise should be “ongoing” before a complaint is made.

The proposal also doesn’t address a required distance from where the noise is emitting that would be prohibited, officials said. Board members said they will continue discussing the proposal at their meeting on Wednesday.

“We need a happy medium here and I want to give protections to individuals who have neighbors who are inconsiderate, but I also don’t want to wreck their normal activities,” Oliverio said. “We need something because we can’t have neighbors using sounds to terrorize their neighbors, and that’s what’s going on in quite a few places.”