OC Noise Survey Likely To Lead To Ordinance Changes

OCEAN CITY – The results of last summer’s Boardwalk noise survey have resulted in Ocean City considering revisions to its existing ordinance.

Last summer, the Mayor and Council contracted with consultant RK&K to conduct noise readings at different times and locations on the Boardwalk to determine if the town’s noise ordinance needs to be amended. On Tuesday, RK&K consultant Kevin Hughes presented the detailed findings from noise tests conducted last August and made recommendations on potentially changing the noise ordinance as it pertains to the Boardwalk. The testing was aimed at addressing the ongoing issue with some of the Boardwalk street performers.

“The goal was to differentiate standard normal activities and establish a baseline,” said Hughes. “Those baseline conditions can then be compared to other activities such as performances, for example.”

Hughes also said the testing was done to determine prolonged exposure to decibel levels above the baseline.

“We also wanted to determine a reasonable duration for noise levels above the established baseline level,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to penalize someone for briefly going over the baseline. This is more to determine a prolonged duration over the established baseline.”

The consultant performed the Boardwalk sound measurements over the course of two separate occasions in August on a Tuesday night and a Saturday night in order to differentiate between weeknight and weekend noise levels. The measurements were recorded at 11 different sites from the Inlet to 21st Street.

The sites were chosen to represent a variety of noise environments along the Boardwalk, with some chosen to establish baseline conditions and others chosen to capture a wide variety of noises on the Boardwalk, from street performers to restaurant background music to the ambient sounds of people going about their business and enjoying the amenities.

For the busier, more densely developed section south of 12th Street, the average baseline sound level was around 64 decibels. For the quieter section north of 12th Street, the average baseline sound level was nearly 59 decibels. The consultant recommended an allowable decibel level above the established baseline by 11 decibels.

For the area south of 12th Street, the acceptable daytime noise level above baseline should be 75 decibels, according to the consultant. For the area north of 12th Street, the acceptable daytime noise level above baseline should be 70 decibels. The consultant recommended a duration of 10 seconds.

In other words, the duration of 10 seconds should be the standard when determining if noise 11 decibels above the baseline should be enforced. For example, a short burst of sound such as a car horn or a car backfiring would not necessarily be enforced.

In addition, the consultant recommended an acceptable distance from which to enforce an amended noise ordinance at 15 feet in order to differentiate between ambient sound and other noises on the Boardwalk. The current noise ordinance as it pertains to the Boardwalk is 30 feet, but that did not survive a judicial test in a civil suit filed by a group of street performers against the town’s busker ordinance a few years ago.

Councilman Tony DeLuca sought to clarify the consultant’s recommendations in simplest terms.

“So, you’re recommending our noise limit be 11 decibels over baseline?” he said. “What is it now? It also sounds like you’re recommending a distance of 15 feet after establishing an acceptable baseline.”

Councilman Mark Paddack praised the consultant’s detailed findings and recommendations, but drew from his police officer background to raise some questions.

“Nowhere in this report is there anything from a law enforcement perspective,” he said. “Our officers are not all trained in the use of this technical equipment. Officers can make observations based on experience because there is a lot of ambient noise on the Boardwalk.”

Attorney Maureen Howarth, who worked with the consultant on the study, said law enforcement was taken into consideration during the process.

“The Ocean City Police Department was invited to participate in the project,” she said. “The one concern was what would be enforceable. They were comfortable with where we were with officer enforcement.”

Howarth added, “The 30-foot rule wasn’t thrown out in the federal court case. It was determined it wasn’t allowable without an established baseline. That’s what this project did.”

Hughes said the consultants were cognizant of the possibility of uniformed police officers on hand when the sound measurements were taken because the performers would simply adjust their levels when the consultants were around.

“At first, we didn’t want police officers to accompany us for that very reason,” he said. “What we found is they didn’t change their noise levels even if the saw us with police officers.”

After some discussion, the council unanimously approved a motion to direct legal counsel to draft a revised noise ordinance as it pertains to the Boardwalk and present it to the police commission for a recommendation before it comes before the full council.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.