To view the proposed noise ordinance, click here.
By Connie Leinbach
Why does Ocracoke need a noise ordinance at all, some on the island are asking since a proposed new ordinance began circulating Thursday.
This proposal will be on the agenda Monday night (Feb. 1) when the Hyde County commissioners convene at 6 p.m. in Swan Quarter. Islanders can attend via teleconference in the Ocracoke School commons room.
According to the document, the new proposal would be for the decibel level during the day to remain what it was, which was 70 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
After that, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., the maximum decibels would be 55, which is up from a prior suggested level of 43. The ordinance now in place says outdoor music will cease at 10 p.m., and says nothing about sound levels after that hour.
This new revision makes it a criminal misdemeanor with fines to those who violate the decibel level.
Voting will not be preceded by a public hearing, although the public will be allowed to talk during the commissioners’ discussion on it, said Bill Rich, Hyde County manager.
“This is the best compromise out there,” he said. “I know some people won’t like it, but it’s more than fair.”
Some island business owners who especially rely on live music don’t think so.
“What was once an island that got along is going to be an island at odds against each other,” said Ashley Harrell, co-owner of Gaffer’s Sports Pub. “Now they’re going to have to enforce it in the day, if they enforce it at night.”
Because of this uncertainty, she has not yet booked her live music for the summer.
Does that mean there can be no outdoor music during the day? she questioned.
“This is a vacation destination,” she continued. “When people are here they want to go out at night.”
She questioned why there needs to be an ordinance at all: just let the parties who are squabbling work it out between themselves in civil court.
The community has been discussing the ordinance this season mostly stemming from complaints between Oscar’s House B&B and the Ocracoke Bar & Grille, which is across the street. It culminated this fall in the Bar receiving a violation from the Hyde County sheriff’s department. That citation was recently dismissed in Hyde County superior court because the ordinance is a civil ordinance, Rich said.
Sean Death, owner of Ocracoke Bar & Grille, also was unhappy about the proposed ordinance.
“This is a resort town and by putting a noise ordinance in place where people come to let their hair down, is not a sustainable plan,” he said.
He also advocated not having an ordinance.
“Ocracoke’s ambient noise is higher than 55 decibels,” he said. “If this ordinance is passed, it will be enforced on businesses and visitors, and the unintended consequences will be far reaching.”
Joelle LeBlanc, owner of Ocracoke Coffee, said that this whole thing has spiraled out control and that it will affect business if people choose not to come here.
“The scariest part is shutting the island down at 10 p.m.,” she said. “That’s a losing proposition for all the businesses. There are a lot of people without kids who don’t want to go to bed at 10 p.m. It’s always been that you come to hear live music and engage with people. This would change the culture.”
At the Oct. 5 Hyde County commissioners monthly meeting, some community members spoke about their wish for Ocracoke to be quiet at night.
“This shouldn’t be as big an issue as it is,” said islander Debbie Wells. “We have such a level of (housing) density village-wide that at 10 p.m. (the noise) stops. It’s about everyone being able to live.”
Ann Ehringhaus, who lives at and owns Oscar’s, said there’s a difference between noise and sound.
“Many nights I’ve been awakened after 1 a.m.,” she said. “We’ve got to have a law so as not to degrade the quality of life, and that’s what’s happening. The whole picture is about respect—for people and businesses in the community.”
She had said at the November Ocracoke Civic and Business Association meeting that 45 decibels is considered “enough to awaken a sleeping person.”
The following is the penalty section of the current ordinance:
Sec. 16-20. – Penalty.
Any violation of this article shall subject the offender to a civil penalty in the amount of $250.00 for the first violation, and $500.00 for the second violation. Permits will be revoked for the third violation, and the offender will lose the privilege to apply for a permit until the calendar year following the violations.
Sec. 16-25. – Enforcement.
The county sheriff or designee shall have the authority to order those person(s) determined to be in violation of this article to cease producing the sound in excess of that authorized. Such order shall not affect other enforcement methods available for violation of this article.
The following is the penalty section of the proposed ordinance:
Sec. 16-20. – Penalty.
Any person, firm or cooperative violating any of the provisions of this Chapter or neglecting or refusing to comply with same, shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and subject to a fine of $250 for the first offense and $500 for all subsequent offenses or imprisonment not to exceed 30 days, and each day that any of these provisions is violated shall constitute a separate offense.