Fayette County

Lexington council tables noise ordinance after opposition from businesses

Urban County Council members voted Tuesday to table a noise ordinance following a debate between business owners, who said the ordinance is too restrictive, and Lexington residents who think it is a fair compromise.

The proposed ordinance, presented for the first time at the council's Public Safety Committee meeting, is the culmination of research over about three years by a task force led by Vice Mayor Linda Gorton and Councilman Tom Blues.

The ordinance would create more stringent restrictions for noises created by "human voice, machine, animal or device" that would "disturb the peace and quiet of any neighborhood." Many activities, such as construction and shipping work, sports events and concerts, would be restricted from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The ordinance also would create a "noise board," made up of officials appointed by Mayor Jim Gray, which would serve as judge and jury for issues related to the ordinance, including public complaints. The noise board could grant exemptions, called "variances" in the ordinance, to businesses and organizations.

Several prominent Lexington businesses opposed the ordinance. They included The J.M. Smucker Co., which owns the Jif peanut butter plant on Winchester Road; Amazon.com, which owns a warehouse in Lexington that employs thousands; and W.T. Young Storage Co.

Representatives of those and other businesses told council members that time restrictions would affect 24-hour shipping and manufacturing operations. They also said clearing their activities with the noise board and answering noise complaints in front of government officials would create unnecessary hoops for businesses to jump through.

The noise board "seems to me to be an unnecessary bureaucratic expansion, since legitimate complaints and requests for variances could be handled by an existing legal process," Lexington businessman Bill Young said.

Chris Buzard, a supervisor at Amazon, said the facility has hundreds of trucks that come and go during the day that might be considered noisy. Restrictions in the new ordinance would make it harder for the warehouse to ship items to its customers.

"Obviously, that would mean we would have to consider potentially moving," Buzard said.

Several other business officials, touting how much they pay in taxes or how many Lexington residents they employ, indicated they would consider moving operations to cities with less-stringent noise restrictions if the ordinance passed unaltered.

Their concerns were shared by Councilman Doug Martin and Lexington business attorney Bill Lear, both of whom proposed amendments that would ease restrictions on businesses.

"A lot of these folks want to be good corporate citizens, but if they have to stop their operations at 9 o'clock at night, that is a very serious consideration of whether they are going to continue to remain in Lexington," Martin said after the meeting.

Martin proposed adding a subsection that would take land use into account when regulating noise. Lear suggested a similar amendment that would exempt legal, reasonable business from increased regulation, joining a host of exemptions including emergency vehicles, trains and aircraft.

Several citizens spoke during the meeting, telling the council that noisy businesses near their homes have lowered their property values and quality of life.

Residents said that established companies such as Jif, Amazon and W.T. Young Storage aren't the companies that are creating problems and that seeking variances from the noise board should not be a problem for responsible businesses.

The ordinance "is as good as a compromise as can be found," said Seth Brewer, a resident and business owner.

After about two hours, council members voted to postpone further discussion of the ordinance until February, saying they needed more time to study the ordinance and Martin's and Lear's proposals.