By Sue Botos
The sound of generators humming is becoming a more common accompaniment to the sound of chainsaws during the aftermath of storms like Hurricane Sandy. Because the machines are often loud, and run constantly during an emergency, they can be a nuisance to neighbors.
Regulation of generators as well as air conditioning unit noise was recently discussed by City Council as part of a multi-issue ordinance addressing items such as tattoo parlor standards, setback requirements and home occupation. Council has had the legislation on the agenda since late last year.
City Building Commissioner Kevin Beirne pointed out that, currently, the noise level limit for Rocky River is 65 decibels during the day and 60 at night. Exceptions are made for construction and yard equipment in use during the day. “Air conditioner condensers are rarely under 65 decibels,” he reported, adding that it’s often difficult to get accurate readings due to ambient noise and temperature variations.
Beirne went on to note that 20 communities, including Independence and Beachwood, have set 75 decibels as the limit for generators. He said that this number falls between the noise produced by city traffic, and average conversation, which runs between 60 and 65 decibels.
Councilman at Large Mike Harvey questioned the necessity of such regulation. “How many noise complaints have we gotten about generators? Why should we adjust this without an issue or a problem?” he asked.
Harvey continued that in a community like Rocky River, many homes are close together. “Some houses are tight. No amount of screening can stop the noise,” he stated.
Beirne stated that legislation like this is necessary for reference when situations between neighbors arise, such as arguments over the positioning of air conditioner condensers.
When discussion turned to positioning of these units in the back of a home as opposed to the side, Council President Jim Moran pointed out that due to the layout of some neighborhoods, one family’s back yard could be under another’s bedroom window. “Its not about side or back, it’s position in relation to the neighbors,” he stated.
Ward 4 Councilman John Shepherd urged that neighbors work together to come to their own solutions. Mayor Pam Bobst added that while this is important, a measure is needed when noise pollution becomes an issue. “We do need something in the code,” she stated.
While Harvey agreed that while neighbors generally do try to solve their own problems, changing the ordinance could lead to confusion. “Don’t change it unless we know it’s broken. People generally understand the regulations. If they don’t understand, it could potentially become chaotic,” he stated.
Noise does not appear to be a major issue in the city. Law Director Andy Bemer told council that in little over seven years, he has dealt with only four noise issues. He agreed that the 60 to 65 decibel numbers were too low; he remarked, “We don’t want neighbors cutting down a tree at 6 a.m.” He also noted that often, problems will not be with contiguous neighbors, but with those that have abutting back and side yards.
Generators are an integral part of the ordinance, but Moran pointed out that air conditioners were the larger issue because they are used more often.
The ordinance’s sponsor, Ward 3 Councilman Michael O’Donnell, suggested that council look further at the regulations of Independence and Beachwood and come up with something similar. He said that more provisions could be added at a later date.
Council is expected to take action on the ordinance at its March 25 legislative session.