Ocean City Noise Code Amendments Advance

OCEAN CITY — In an effort to gain control of noise pollution, particularly on the Boardwalk, the City Council this week advanced a series of amendments to the town’s noise code.

Last summer, the Mayor and Council contracted with consultant RK&K to conduct noise readings at different times and different locations on the Boardwalk to determine if the town’s noise ordinance needed to be amended. The consultant tested a variety of noise levels at different locations, but the intent of the exercise was to address loud amplified music emanating from some Boardwalk businesses and some of the ongoing issues with some street performers.

The goal was to differentiate standard, normal ambient noise on the Boardwalk and establish a baseline. Those baseline conditions were then compared to other activities such as performances, for example.

City Attorney Maureen Howarth took the consultant’s findings and recommendations and conducted a thorough review of the town’s existing noise ordinance to determine what sections needed to be amended. On Tuesday, Howarth presented her red-lined and amended version of the noise code based on the consultant’s recommendations to the Mayor and Council for review.

While Howarth’s presentation was sweeping and included all sections of the town’s noise code, much of the discussion focused on the Boardwalk noise issues, from businesses to buskers. One amended section outlines the intent of the code as it pertains to the Boardwalk.

“In an effort to address the issue of excessive noise on the Boardwalk that affects businesses and residences, it is necessary to establish restrictions on noise pollution on the Boardwalk,” the amended code reads. “The ambient noise level on the Boardwalk is unique to the town of Ocean City and the state due to its distinctive historical, geographical and physical characteristics, thus the Boardwalk requires its own set of rules and regulations different from other areas of the town of Ocean City.”

Some of the amended sections address the growing problem of amplified recordings or music disrupting the normal ambient noise on the Boardwalk.

“The using of, operating of, or permitting to be played, used or operated any radio receiving set, musical instrument, phonograph, sound amplification device or system or other machine or device for the producing or reproducing of sound on or directed toward the Boardwalk and abutting properties in such a manner to exceed the ambient noise level by more than 11 decibels as measured from 15 feet from the source is deemed to be noise pollution disturbing the peace, quiet and comfort of other persons,” the code reads.

According to the amended code, if a property owner has been issued three citations in one calendar year, he or she is subject to having the business or rental license denied in the following year. If three citations, not convictions, are issued in one calendar year, the property owner will be notified by the Mayor and Council if a hearing will be held.

If a hearing is held and it is determined the property owner has taken serious and effective steps to address the problem, the business license or rental license can be renewed for the following year. If the hearing determines no serious or effective steps are being taken, the property’s business or rental license can be denied for the following year.

Howarth went through each of the amended sections of the code. Councilman Mark Paddack, a former Ocean City Police Department officer and Noise Board liaison, had questions about the three-citation rule in the amended code.

“Where I’m having difficulty is the section about three citations,” he said. “Are we talking about three separate events, or three citations for the same event?”

Howarth explained the language was changed to reflect three citations in a given calendar year. It used to read three convictions, but she explained delays in adjudicating convictions was impractical. Paddack also cautioned about the sections related to street performers.

“When we get in the commercial aspect of the Boardwalk, we have to be careful because we’ve been in litigation,” he said. “What a business or individual thinks is a violation might not be. The Boardwalk is a very unique place and it considered a public forum. I think this addresses all of the public’s concerns and satisfies the courts.”

Councilman Peter Buas, an attorney, said it was important to differentiate the penalties prescribed in the code for street performers and the penalties for businesses with recurring violations, which are tied to licenses.

“The three citations section applies to commercial businesses,” he said. “You don’t need a business license to perform on the Boardwalk.”

Paddack reiterated his concerns about the three-citation language in the amended code.

“I have trouble with three citations,” he said. “It should be three incidents. In the past, I could make 11 arrests for the same noise incident. That would trigger the three-citation rule for a single incident.”

After considerable debate, the council voted unanimously to forward the proposed noise code changes for first reading. Paddack said he would inform Noise Board members of the changes so they would have an opportunity to weigh in before second reading.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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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.