Herald-Leader Editorial

Pass the updated city noise ordinance

Plan follows years of study, hearings

February 14, 2012 

Lexington made a smart move more than 50 years ago by steering growth away from its surrounding farmland and into an urban core. The city has recommitted in recent years by encouraging development of empty land and conversions of existing properties inside the urban services boundary.

Given what we know about sprawl and its costs, this approach is looking smarter than ever. But some conflicts are bound to arise between old and new neighbors and even among new neighbors, especially when businesses and industries abut residential areas.

Some of these conflicts will involve noise. Noise is more than an annoyance. It can make you sick and ruin property values. It's a threat to quality of life and public health. It's also an unavoidable consequence of human activity.

Sorting out the inevitable conflicts in a way that's fair to all would be the work of Lexington's first noise board, under a proposal from an Urban County Council task force.

The council launched the task force four years ago when weaknesses in the current law became gratingly obvious. Lexington's noise ordinance dates to 1974 and would need updating even without the extra pressures from infill and redevelopment.

The task force held public hearings and studied noise ordinances from more than 100 cities. Vice Mayor Linda Gorton and council member Tom Blues co-chaired the effort.

Unfortunately, their work has met a stony reception from some council members and Lexington businesses that are overreacting.

A council committee defeated the draft ordinance Tuesday after it was loaded down with a poison-pill amendment. But this won't — and should not — be the last we hear of a new noise law. Gorton and Blues and council member Chris Ford, whose central Lexington district is home to a dense mix of homes and businesses, should keep pushing and educating council members and concerned businesses.

Most of the misgivings should ease once opponents understand that forcing anyone to move or go out of business is clearly not the intent. The draft ordinance is emphatic about balancing the interests of those making the noise and those complaining about it. Variances could be granted depending on circumstances. There would be new limits on gratuitous noise at night, but noise necessary in the regular course of doing business would be protected.

Arguments used to discredit the ordinance are not convincing.

Councilman Doug Martin said it would be better for noise complaints to go to court rather than through a citizens board. But paying for lawyers is much more expensive and would be prohibitive for many.

One of the reasons the council commissioned a new noise law is that courts are not geared to deal with complaints that often boil down to one party's word against another's.

Railing against new bureaucracy is an old reliable. But some new bureaucracies can be extremely useful. In this case, the public would get an objective process for dealing with complaints about noise, something Lexington now lacks.

The noise board would be made up of eight citizens, including representatives of industry and local music venues and a professional in a noise-related field.

Open minds are required to grow a city with a quality of life that will attract people and investment. It's time to listen with an open mind to the resoundingly solid reasons for updating Lexington's noise law.

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