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City eases up on noise ordinance


Council approves later hours for noise but cuts the lights at 9 p.m.

Good news for those of you who like to spend your summer evenings outdoors soaking up the last of the daylight either playing or working in the yard — the city just set back its noise ordinance from 7 to 10 p.m.

However, this may be bad news for those living next to inconsiderate neighbors.

The West Linn City Council approved a noise and light trespass ordinance during its Monday 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. As more and more people installed sport courts complete with large netting and industrial lights, the concern has grown and tension between some neighbors has increased.

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

The city’s former noise ordinance was 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. 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.

During work sessions discussing the topic, West Linn police 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. Capt. Ron Schwartz said even sports games in city parks were held accountable under that ordinance.

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.

The new lighting amendment dictates that all outdoor lights that trespass onto other properties need to be turned off between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. “Trespass” is determined if a bulb can be seen from a point 6 feet above ground at the property line. Previously there were no limitations of light trespass and residents could leave lights on 24/7.

City Assistant Attorney Megan Thornton told the council that the new ordinance would make police enforcement easier.

However, Schwartz told councilors Monday night that it would take time before officers could rate the effectiveness and enforceability of the code.

“We can work with this,” Schwartz told the council. “It would be hard to say how easy or difficult it would be to enforce this.”

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.

The McGills 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 abuts the McGills’ property.

The light “essentially lights up our backyard like a landing strip. It’s pretty offensive. ... It seems a bit excessive,” Mindi McGill told the council. “A 17-foot light should never be allowed in a backyard.”

Mary Swanson, who has also dealt with noise from neighbors, spoke to the council, encouraging the use of decibel readers for noise enforcement.

“It is not play (that) dominates everything until 10 p.m.,” Swanson said. “Noise is measurable in decibels; please use decibels.”

However, 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.

Though city staff recommended pushing the light ordinance to 10 p.m. to be in line with the noise ordinance, councilors all agreed to dim the lights at 9 p.m. instead.

The council members all voted to approve the ordinance. Mayor John Kovash was not present at the meeting.