Politics & Government

Noisy neighbors? New York County rule could help, if they're driving a backhoe

Development in Indian Land.  Parked construction equipment  at the Bailes Ridge Corporate Park on SC 160 East at Old Bailes Road Friday. In the background is the Keer America yarn factory.
Development in Indian Land. Parked construction equipment at the Bailes Ridge Corporate Park on SC 160 East at Old Bailes Road Friday. In the background is the Keer America yarn factory. File photo

York County is looking to address some of the most common complaints leaders hear about loud noise.

One final York County Council vote, which could be as early as Monday, is needed before a new rule could make contractors pay for a study to see if they're being too loud. It would include stricter enforcement when that study shows the noise is too loud.

The rule has been approved on two previous council votes.

Complaints about construction noise is one of several common issues heard by council members.

"One of them is ongoing construction noise at Lakemont," said Councilman Michael Johnson of the Fort Mill development. "I can't tell you how many emails I get about that construction going on at Lakemont from the neighborhoods that sit on Pleasant Road, and how it bothers them."

The county has a sound table, outlining how much noise is acceptable from construction sites. The proposed rule, if approved, would be inserted into the county code under "transient noises" such as moving cars, trucks, airplanes and trains. The aim is to curb industrial noise.

"It applies across the board to all industrial," said Audra Miller, county growth management coordinator.

The county wouldn't go out looking for noisy sites. But if a complaint came in, the county could use noise meters to test.

If construction or industrial noise at a residential property line exceeds what's allowed in the sound table by even five decibels — the sound of a leaf hitting the ground — a sound study could follow.

The builder or industrial user would have to pay for that study if it was determined the noise was too loud.

The noise rule is part of a larger York County effort to add or revise land use regulations, which could make it more difficult to put certain industrial businesses like mines, quarries and concrete plants in the county.

Residents' concern about quarries, similar to what Chester County residents say about a proposed quarry there, include blasting and other sound-related issues.

While construction sites can be noisy, county leaders hear a host of other noise complaints.

“Discharge of firearms in rural residential areas," Johnson said. "I get that phone call routinely."

Off Dam Road, one group staked off a 10-by-10-foot box in a field and measured it off from neighboring homes, Johnson said. It's a problem he sees with distance-based rules on noise, compared to noise level rules.

"They have measured it off to the front doors of every (one) of the houses around them, and that box allows them to sit there and shoot guns," Johnson said. "And they will sit there and shoot guns for five to six hours if they feel like it, and the sheriff's deputies can't do anything, despite the fact that you can literally see them standing in the fields from most of these people's kitchens."

In Johnson's district, which is becoming denser with residential development from Fort Mill and Tega Cay, there could be interest in looking at noise from guns and other types of noise, he said.

Councilman Robert Winkler, who represents the western part of the county, said he can support the industrial noise rule because it doesn't involve gun noise.

"It does not hamper the firearms in my area," Winkler said. "There's a lot of deer hunting, squirrel hunting, and occasionally I've got a few friends that own quite a bit of acreage, and we go out there and just shoot things."

Councilwoman Allison Love represents home-heavy Lake Wylie, but also more rural Clover. She and Winkler have the same issue, she said.

"For my district, I would get more calls if we didn't allow the discharge of firearms in the rural and residential areas," Love said.

Another noise issue is loud parties. Miller said the new rule isn't meant to address that issue.

Love said she doesn't support the proposed rule, saying she doesn't "think we've got this right yet."

"If your neighbor's partying and making too much noise, I do think it covers that," Love said. "If somebody's got a live band or something, I mean, this is noise. That's noise to some people."

Chairman Britt Blackwell said neighbors always can call local law enforcement with a complaint about a loud party or similar issue, and officers can "use their fair judgment."

"This is not really related to your next door neighbor having a party outside," Blackwell said. "This is more related to commercial, industrial.”

Miller said industrial users have to sign plats, permits or other documents that list agreements to keep noise within guidelines. Any company legally operating should be subject to the rule.

Along with determining which noises may be subject to the new rule, the issue of enforcement arises. Councilwoman Christi Cox said most noise complaints happen after hours.

"Are we saying that this is going to result in having to hire someone to do this?" she asked.

Most council members said the new rule would be a step in the right direction.

"The tools that we have to address the complaints that (Michael) Johnson and the rest of us get don’t work," said Councilman Chad Williams. "And this is an attempt to find something that can.”

If the county performs a sound study, and it determines sound levels aren't being violated, the county would have to eat the cost of the study.

"Hopefully, we will only use this when needed, but that when we do use it, it will be to stop heavy construction noise, companies that are doing the wrong thing," Johnson said.

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