Home Waynesboro noise ordinance subjective; business owner asks city to define decibel levels

Waynesboro noise ordinance subjective; business owner asks city to define decibel levels

measuring sound in hallway of music event
(© Peerapixs – stock.adobe.com)

The City of Waynesboro amended its noise ordinance last July in an attempt to provide objective standards for any noise violation. However, the amendment may not have gone far enough to address noise associated with live music in the River City.

Bart Lanman, owner of The Foundry and Basic City Brewing Company, has raised concerns with the noise ordinance being too vague.

Lanman opened The Foundry, an 800-person music venue, in March and recently received a warning from the police department related to noise occurring after 10 p.m.

As a result, The Foundry bumped up starting times for upcoming shows so there are no more violations. However, Lanman is working to address the issue with the city, asking Waynesboro leaders to define “noise” even further than it does now.

In Staunton, according to a presentation from the Waynesboro city manager’s office presented to City Council last year, the city code says between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., any noise in excess of 65 dBA is considered a violation.

Staunton has an exception in its code for musical entertainment in its central business district. The level of noise should not exceed 80 dBA at any point 50 feet from the property boundary where the noise emanates. Additional conditions apply after 11:30 p.m., according to the presentation provided to AFP.

In a report to City Council, to determine decibel levels of any sound or noise, proper equipment along with a certificate as to accuracy of equipment is required. A precision model, according to the city manager’s office, would cost between $300 and $800.

Staunton City Manager Leslie Beauregard is out of the office through July 19 and was not available for further comment on the application of the ordinance in Staunton.

Sound levels are also defined in Harrisonburg city code.

While Waynesboro did adopt revisions to its Unnecessary Noise code, Article IV, Section 50-50, on July 25, 2022, to address its more than 200 noise-related complaints annually, it did not specifically address decibel levels for noise.

The goal of the amendment, according to the city’s own briefing, had been to make enforcing the noise code less subjective.

“Enforcement of noise-related codes can be challenging, especially when they rely on subjective observation rather than objective standards that can be consistently applied,” the City Council briefing read. “Many noise complaints are resolved through communication between the officer and the offender. Repeat and persistent occurrences require a well-crafted ordinance for effective enforcement,” the report read.

“The policy of the City of Waynesboro is to prevent unnecessary noise while appropriately preserving each citizen’s First Amendment rights. The recommended changes by city staff and the city attorney to City Code Section 50-50 are intended to enhance the quality of life for Waynesboro residents, bring the current ordinance into compliance with the state code and establish more objective criteria to support the practical enforcement of noise-related regulations.”

While businesses in good standing have some exceptions related to noise during the day in Waynesboro, the amended code reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person to make, cause, or allow to be made, upon any property in the City of Waynesboro the following: Business noises at night near residences. The creation of noise in connection with loading or unloading any materials, product, merchandise, goods, vehicles, or opening and destroying bales, boxes, crates, and containers, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.”

The 10 p.m. designation is something Lanman was unaware of when he opened his venue in Basic City. He thought that businesses were exempt from noise violations.

In the end, Lanman hopes he can work with the city manager’s office and Waynesboro City Council to further amend the noise code to include decibel levels so the venue can better regulate the volume emanating from the venue after 10 p.m.

“As a business owner, I need a more scientific approach to manage ‘noise.’ For instance, quantified in decibels,” Lanman said. “The ordinance is just too vague. And ultimately will impact our ability to do the business we have set out to do.

“We continue to grow together. Our growth has introduced new opportunities for the city to consider and for the community to enjoy.”

The code does allow the City Manager to exempt someone for up to 10 calendar days. However, anything longer would require City Council action.

At this time, it doesn’t seem any specific action is under way by City Council.

“We are reviewing the ordinance and its application related to music venues,” said Mike Hamp, the Waynesboro city manager. “We do not have a specific recommendation or alternative in mind at this time.”

Waynesboro City Councilman Terry Short did not respond to an inquiry for comment on this issue at press time.

To date, Lanman has only received one warning for noise complaints at The Foundry.

The city code states that any violation will result in a Class 4 misdemeanor on the first conviction and a fine not to exceed $250. A second or subsequent conviction within a period of 12 months would result in a Class 3 misdemeanor and a fine not to exceed $500 for each offense. Each calendar day a violation continues may also result in a separate offense.

“Ultimately, I want to remain an upstanding citizen that cares significantly about the future of Waynesboro rather than potentially perceived as a vigilante that has taken-up on the outskirts of town,” Lanman said. “It has always been our intention to be good neighbors and be a part of the cultural experience of our local community.”

The Foundry owner challenges ‘noise,’ working with city leaders for more clarification

Basic City Beer creates destination with 800-person music venue, restaurant

Waynesboro’s Basic City Beer Co. win prestigious global award

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.