Where’s Warren  Christopher (the diplomat who negotiated the safe release of the embassy hostages during the Iran crisis in 1979-80) when we need him?

Put another way, how about trying a mediation process that can help two important businesses resolve their differences?

A proposed new noise ordinance (which includes criminal penalties for violations) by Hyde County has exploded into a major brouhaha on the island.  The county commissioners will discuss and possibly vote on this ordinance tonight (Monday, Feb. 1) at the monthly Hyde County commissioners meeting at 6 p.m. in the Ocracoke School commons room.

Since last year the island has been talking about “what does Ocracoke want to be” stemming from the haggling between the Ocracoke Bar & Grille and Oscar’s House B&B across the street.

The patrons and owner of the B&B want serenity and peace while the O Bar is trying to make a living doing what it does—serving food and drink. We have published both party’s views here and here  as well as the county commissioner’s comment here.

Many voices have said, in essence, “Ocracoke is a vacation spot. Vacationers want to go out and have fun, have a few drinks, hear some music and laugh.”

Other voices have extolled Ocracoke as a peaceful place to get away from the madding crowd. They’ve said,  “How would you like it if you had a continuous noisy neighbor across the street? We want quiet after 10 p.m.”

Yet others say, “Why have a noise ordinance at all? Let those who are upset hash it out in court between themselves.”

We understand these views, and that Ocracoke does not have zoning districts as can be found in urban areas.

The ordinance was enacted a few years ago to control the level and duration of outside music and noise. According to the ordinance, amplified music can only be played to 70 decibels and only until 10 p.m. From 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. the ordinance only says that “noise” must be indoors and/or contained on one’s property.

Back in November, the OCBA had the issue on its agenda and invited the community to discuss it, but there was no consensus as to resolution.

While the county said it would take readings with a certified decibel meter that the sheriff’s department has, this was done in January when very few businesses are open.

A report from Will Doerfer, special assistant county manager, who took the readings with Deputy Jaren Mutro, was listed on the January commissioners’ meeting but was not discussed.

Doerfer’s report can be read here, but his readings found that in the Community Center lot when Mutro talked conversationally, from 20 feet away the reading was 53. At a distance of 50 feet from the edge of the road, Mutro’s cruiser yielded a decibel reading of 59.  A large pick-up truck going by registered 62. The lowest reading from the Community Center lot was between 43 and 45 decibels.  At the end of Silver Lake Drive the lowest reading attained was 32.6. Then, a nearby cricket raised the level to around 34 decibels.

Doerfer’s report acknowledged that this was not done during the busy summer season to compare, and that, we think, is a problem.

Hyde’s  most recent proposal changes include retaining the 70 decibel daytime limit and setting a decibel level of 53 after 10 p.m.

We are concerned that the criminal penalties are too severe. Sometimes warning people to take it down a notch can work and is more in line with making Ocracoke a friendly place to visit.

Ignoring warnings and repeated violations is another matter and should be dealt with appropriately. It is possible that Ocracoke can be both a place for coming to hear the great music performed and also be a place for the tranquility many seek, but it needs more work.

Even though some may be tired of dealing with it, modifying the current ordinance needs more research and discussion–or no change–and we urge the county commissioners to table any vote on this.




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  1. Seems like a no brainier to me. If you like loud music and like to party, then stay in a “downtown” lodging. If you’re OLD, like us, and prefer to have peace and quiet, find a place away from the nightlife and noise.

  2. I’m a visitor. I come for both music and serenity. If there are no rules, someone will surely push limits. Can’t we have both music and serenity? 10:00 may be a bit early. How about a decibel limit after 10 pm and all quiet at 11?

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