Dan Hust | Democrat
Standing amidst a capacity crowd at the Delaware Town Hall, Hortonville resident Charles Trowbridge asks officials why they “zeroed in” on the noise regulations in their proposed zoning changes.
Story by Dan Hust
HORTONVILLE May 31, 2013 Noise dominated Wednesday’s Delaware Town Board hearing on proposed changes to the township’s zoning law.
Language permitting natural gas compressor stations in much of the town had already been removed by that time, but this second of two public hearings still drew a capacity crowd to the town hall in Hortonville.
And they made some noise about noise even presenting a petition with more than 100 signatures asking for “more comprehensive” regulations to be enacted.
“Why change the maximum?” asked Kenoza Lake resident Liam Murphy, referring to the proposed law’s maximum of 60 decibels versus 40 in the existing.
“You’re comparing apples to oranges,” replied the town’s planner, Tom Shepstone. “Sixty is merely the upper, upper level.”
Shepstone said the law was being changed “for simplicity and ease of understanding,” citing a previous case with the Villa Roma’s go-kart track that indicated the existing law is needlessly complex.
He insisted the proposed new law “is a more strict standard.”
Planning Board Chairman Gerald Euker, whose board worked for the past three years on the zoning changes, felt it would take “a specialist” to understand the existing law, which features a scale to grade acceptable vs. unacceptable noise levels.
But the proposed changes, argued Murphy and other public speakers, weaken restrictions on noise.
“It doesn’t provide a default ambient noise level,” Murphy pointed out, speaking of the new language stating that noises five or more decibels above the ambient (surrounding) level would be prohibited.
Murphy read an engineer’s letter stating that “this is a major step backward,” though town officials countered that Delaware’s engineer signed off on the proposed new rules.
Nevertheless, Shepstone acknowledged that some of the noise-related comments that evening were worth investigating further, and he indicated he might recommend, for example, that the town indeed set a default ambient noise threshold.
Though it’s now in the town board’s hands, the changes may go back to the planning board, as at least two members of that board expressed a desire to research newly-raised concerns about the health effects of low-frequency noise.
Other concerns were also raised that evening, including Callicoon resident Buck Moorhead’s contention that the shifting of zoning districts doesn’t create regulatory cohesion (the stated aim of town officials) but confusion and ambiguity.
“It will be much greater work for the planning board,” he warned, predicting extended negotiations between the board and applicants, leading to “project-by-project interpretation.”
Several speakers intimated that officials were not listening and would do what they want, prompting Shepstone to reply, “It is our job to take into consideration what you said. It is not our job to do what you demand simply because you came to a meeting.”
Town Attorney Ken Klein noted that much of what’s in the proposed changes defines minimum standards and that the planning board can exercise discretion if it feels a particular project might warrant additional restrictions or conditions.
In the end, said Euker, whatever is adopted by the town board “is not in concrete. It [the law] can be changed.”
The town board may take up the matter at its next meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, June 12 at 7 p.m. at the town hall in Hortonville.