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Noise ordinance in the works for Macon

A noise ordinance could be in Macon County’s future as the planning board starts in on writing a set of draft rules this week. 

The board’s been taking comment and researching similar ordinances in nearby counties since September, and last week County Planner Matt Mason came to the county commissioners’ meeting to get their thoughts on the issue.

The discussion started when Matlock Creek resident Betty Bennett approached commissioners this fall, complaining of excessively loud music and partying keeping her and her husband awake at night. Bennett isn’t the only one to have had issues with neighbors purposefully playing loud music into the wee hours of the morning. The planning board has heard from a long list of people who feel the same way. 

“In the last eight years, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard somebody crying in a public meeting,” Mason told commissioners. “These people are at their wits’ end.”

With no noise ordinance in place, all the sheriff’s deputies can do is ask residents to turn the noise down. That doesn’t usually work. 

“They don’t even wait until the taillights are gone,” Sheriff Robert Holland said. “They tell the officer, ‘You’re violating my rights and I can play my music as loud as I want.’”

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Because commissioners would have to ultimately approve any ordinance that the planning board came up with, Mason sought the commissioners’ input on just how strict of a rule to write. The board was sensitive to the need for Holland’s department to have more teeth in this area but hesitant to approve any rule that could be seen as over-regulatory. 

“I’m not going to vote for a noise ordinance if it came back to us,” Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin said. “What I would vote for is a nuisance ordinance. The person who’s deliberately playing loud music for their neighbors, they’re doing it in a malicious way.”

Something that would kick in if, as Commissioner Paul Higdon put it, “you point a radio at my house and play it loud.”

The planning board has gotten a lot of concerned comments from bear and coon hunters in the area, Mason said, who are afraid that a noise ordinance could apply to barking dogs like the ones they use for their hunts. Commissioners said that they would not want to restrict that kind of noise — they just want to give the sheriff’s office some legal basis to keep the peace. 

Holland said he’s had people go so far as to leave for the weekend with “loud, obnoxious, filthy” music playing the whole time, just to get under the neighbors’ skin.  

“If these people were not on their own property and were to go down the street and do something in front of someone else’s house, you could get them for disturbing the peace,” Holland said. “But there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Commissioners instructed Mason to bring them an ordinance that focuses on deliberately produced noise in the county — excluding the towns and extra-territorial jurisdiction around them — giving Holland the ability to address violations with fines or jail time. 

The planning board will take up the issue at its upcoming meeting at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 18, but it will likely be some time before a final draft comes to the commissioners for approval. 

“Creating the noise ordinance will be a slow and deliberate process,” Mason said.

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