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Council ponders noise, light issues

City considers pushing noise ordinance back to 10 p.m.


by: TIM AND MINDI MCGILL - The lights from a neighboring sport court shines into the bedroom and living room of West Linn residents Tim and Mindi McGill. The recent installation of a net can be seen over the exisiting fence as well.Have you ever mowed your lawn on a sunny summer Saturday after 5 p.m.? If so, you violated the city’s noise ordinance.

The city of West Linn is looking to clean up some of its codes and ordinances and restore peace among neighbors.

The city council discussed a proposed noise and light trespass ordinance during its March 18 meeting.

The issues of noise and lighting have been bounced around between the planning commission and the city council for the past couple of years. The growing popularity of installing sport courts in backyards has also exasperated the issue due to people playing in backyards and installing large lights for the courts.

Complaints starting coming in 2008 about balls coming over fences, lights shining directly into neighbors’ homes and late-night noise.

City staff referred to neighboring cities’ light and noise restrictions and conferred with the police department when drafting the ordinance.

The city’s current noise ordinance is in effect from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the week and from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekends, whereas 90 percent of jurisdictions in Oregon have a 10 p.m. cutoff, Capt. Ron Schwartz with the West Linn Police Department told the council. He also said the League of Oregon Cities recommends the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. quiet time.

About two years ago the city changed its noise ordinance from 10 to 7 p.m. Schwartz said the police get very few noise complaints in the early evening hours and a few more after 10 p.m.

Schwartz urged the council to move toward the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. time so families out on nice evenings don’t run the risk of getting citations from the police. He said even sports games in city parks are held accountable under the current ordinance.

“The majority of the complaints we receive are after 10 o’clock,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have to deal with unreasonable neighbors” who use the police and noise complaints to retaliate against each other.by: VERN UYETAKE - Some West Linn residents, like Ryan Holmes, have installed sports courts on their property to give children a safe place to play.

Other residents have also pushed for the later time. More than 150 residents signed a petition last fall asking for a 9 p.m. cutoff.

Having a previous noise ordinance that relied on decibel readings, the city found it mostly unenforceable and onerous. So the new version goes by the vaguer description of a violation being determined using judgment, including proximity of bedrooms, land use, time of day and the duration of the noise.

Rhett Bernstein, an attorney who represents the city in municipal court, wholly supported the proposed changes, saying they would make his job in the courts more defined and easier.

Though Mayor John Kovash seemed to prefer to stick with the current 7 p.m. time, councilors Mike Jones, Jenni Tan and Thomas Frank were OK with extending the time to either 9 or 10 p.m.

The proposed lighting amendment dictates that all outdoor lights that trespass onto other properties need to be turned off between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. “Trespass” is determined by if a bulb can be seen from a point 6 feet above ground at the property line.

“You are making this whole code more efficient,” Kovash said of the ordinance.

However, the proposed changes are upsetting to some residents who deal with noisy neighbors and sport courts on a regular basis.

Tim and Mindi McGill have been battling a neighbor’s sport court and the noise, light and flying balls it generates.

“After last night’s city council meeting it is pretty clear the city really does not care to listen to citizens or work with them to come up with positive solutions that impact the livability for the citizens of West Linn but would rather change codes to encourage bad behavior and allow inconsiderate neighbors even more rights,” Mindi McGill wrote in an email to members of the city council, city staff and the police.

The McGills, who live on Remington Drive, have repeatedly called the police because of the light and noise and balls flying over their fence from neighbors Julie and Ryan Holmes, whose home on Kensington Court abuts the McGills’ property.

On Aug. 9, 2012, police issued a citation to Ryan Holmes for playing a loud game of basketball at 9:22 p.m., which comes with a hefty fine of $500. This is the family’s second citation; the first was issued Aug. 26, 2011, which was dismissed in court.

The McGills have spoken at several planning commission and city council meetings in hopes of establishing tighter regulations. However, the Holmeses, who have young children, installed a sport court with outdoor lighting in their backyard because they want a safe place for their children to play. Ryan Holmes has said the McGills use the city’s noise ordinance against his family.

In her email, Mindi McGill implored the council to reconsider.

“Allowing this change is going to encourage more courts to be built in West Linn as they are already on the rise. This scenario can happen to anyone, and now that it is going to be allowed how are you going to feel when one is built in your neighbor’s backyard?” she wrote.

The council is expected to discuss and perhaps approve the proposed ordinance within the next month.

The proposed ordinance can be read online by visiting westlinnoregon.gov/citymanager/2013-03-15-city-manager-memo and opening the PDF.



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