Noise Noise Noise

It's amazing what people can be led to believe….

The Town Board has actually received misguided emails stating that under the noise law revision/update, the following would lead to a fine and/or jail; that's right, jail!:

  • "Having a party"
  • "Mowing a lawn"
  • "Plowing"
  • "Doing yoga to music"
  • "Dirt bikes"
  • "Hunting"

and, my favorite:

  • "Singing Happy Birthday"

How could this be? How can people be led to believe such things? Through a systematic distortion of:

  1. Why the update is being proposed
  2. Where it came from and how it was developed
  3. Critical pieces of the updated law and what else was considered
  4. What would be the outcome

Please read on to get some accurate information about the updating of the Noise Law of 2014.

Why is it being proposed? Why update a law that is already on the books?

Supervisor Oliverio and the Town Board Members had long heard ongoing complaints about noise in our town. They noted particular trouble spots where very un-neighborly actions were going on continuously; these actions could clearly be characterized as rude, targeted, and disrespectful.

Over several months, the board discussed possible revisions to the Noise Law but could not come to a consensus. Finally, Supervisor Oliverio asked me to take a look at this topic anew and try to come up with something. I told him I would, and if any other board members or community members wanted to assist, please join me. Agnes Powe stepped forward. She has been fantastic.

Where did it come from? Did somebody just make this stuff up?

I started at the beginning taking what I call a "Deep Dive" into the noise law. This was not to be my law — I wanted testimony from the experts and from as many people who would give their input as possible. It is a collaboration.

I received incredible help from Agnes Powe, head of the L.P.I.D. She went above and beyond the call of duty on this one.

She and I met with Sheriff Langley first to get the advice of law enforcement. We were surprised to hear that decibel measurements - a topic that had kept the Town Board bogged down for months - were not seen as realistic or helpful by the Sheriff. We looked at many laws, discussed enforcement, and met several times during this process.

Next, we met with the Town Attorney…many times! If a law is to be enforced, it must then be litigated. Again, the Town Attorney did extensive research on noise laws in the courts and gave us very valuable information. He found out which noise laws were dismissed in court and which ones were upheld and why. A well-run town wants laws that will hold up in court.

Interestingly, the courts also did not require decibel readings in sustainable laws. But they did need some other things….

Critical pieces

In the N.Y.S. Court of Appeals, the court decided that a better balance was needed in noise laws; they needed to protect the rights of not only plaintiffs (like our current law and others) but also of defendants — those being accused of noise disturbances. How is this balance achieved? The court upheld the case with a section of 11 guiding questions for law enforcement and judges to consider. Once again, these questions are not only considered from the point of view of the plaintiff; they are also considered from the point of view of the defendant. The defendant is not considered automatically guilty! And importantly, all of these views are from"a reasonable person of normal sensibilities."

What are these 11 guiding questions? Here they are:

Standards to be considered in determining whether noise disturbance exists in a given situation, include the following:

  1. The intensity of the noise.
  2. Whether the nature of the noise is usual or unusual.
  3. Whether the origin of the noise is natural or unnatural.
  4. The intensity of the background noise.
  5. The proximity of the noise to sleeping facilities.
  6. The nature and the zoning district of the area within which the noise emanates.
  7. The time of the day or night the noise occurs.
  8. The duration of the noise.
  9. Whether the sound source is temporary.
  10. Whether the noise is continuous or intermittent.
  11. Whether alternate methods are available to achieve the objectives of the sound-producing activity.

Remember, these standards are examined from both sides of an issue, not simply to establish that there is a violation (as many have jumped to). You can also see that all standards do not apply to every situation.

Remember too that these standards are examined by a "reasonable person of normal sensibilities." Who is that? First, it would be a police officer. Then, if there were something extreme enough to classify as a violation, a judge would become involved. That is how due process works in America.

What else was considered?

Other things were certainly considered as the attorneys drafted this update. There is a 277-page book on noise laws across the U.S. that was reviewed extensively. All of the previous emails from residents were re-reviewed as we went through several hours of meetings. There was a survey sent out on social media to gather input that way. 209 residents replied. Thank you.

What would be the outcome?

Although some have jumped to a wide variety of strange conclusions, the outcome of this would be an updating of the current noise law — the law that falls short of what the Court of Appeals considers just. By the way, our current law is not atrocious. It just falls short in a few ways and requires updating.

The exceptions in the law stay the same!

The penalties for offenses stay the same!

Enforcement will be the same, with a few words adjusted for clarity.

Who is liable for violations? The same except the new law corrects an oversight in the old law wherein the person actually committing the offense was not held liable for the offense. How come nobody ever picked up on that? The new law removes some violations; for example, motorboats are removed from the update.

If you keep the old, current law which places a ban on idling an engine, then motorboat, motorcycle, ATV, and other engines could be a violation...and there are many more.

The updated law has been carefully crafted through the collaboration of many people.

Please look at the current (2014) law and the new proposed law and make your own judgments rather than being manipulated by the motives, political or otherwise, of others. Why would I say that? Let me leave you with this. The first objection spread around was that the updated law would ban the use of firearms —ANY USE OF FIREARMS!

I found this particularly amusing since the lawyer who crafted this proposed updated law is a:

  • Putnam Valley resident
  • gun owner
  • National Rifle Association member
  • resident who enjoys shooting for sport

As I said in the beginning, it is amazing what people can be led to believe!

I would always be happy to meet and discuss this with individuals or groups.


Ralph would like to hear from all of the community on this topic. Please click the button below to send him an email with your input.

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