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Hernando County to consider whether to enforce noise ordinance again

BROOKSVILLE — Enforcement of Hernando County's noise ordinance ceased last year, but that doesn't mean the annoying noises have.

Just ask George and Gail Petrjcik of Spring Hill.

The pit bulls caged and tied at their neighbor's house have driven them to call the Sheriff's Office and Animal Services multiple times when the dogs have barked, howled and whined for more than eight hours straight.

"Our particular case regarding barking dogs is not merely a case of being irritating,'' the couple wrote in a letter to the county. "It borders on psychological torture.''

The Petrjciks, who live on Bolander Avenue, go on to encourage the county to solve the dilemma of noise ordinance enforcement.

"Disturbing the peace for individual members of a community is a deeper issue than just the inability to enjoy the major investment they have made in owning a home,'' the couple wrote. "If laws and ordinances are not put into place to protect the peace and safety of a community, good people move out, and undesirable people move in.''

The Petrjciks are not alone. County commissioners hear noise complaints on a regular basis. At their meeting on Tuesday, they are slated to discuss whether to get back in the enforcement business.

Last summer, county staffers presented the commission with their challenge. The only noise meter in the county was broken and, without the meter, accurate and defensible sound levels could not be measured. Added to that, the language in the county's ordinance included a sound standard called "clearly audible noise,'' but that had been struck down by the 2nd District Court of Appeal as unconstitutionally vague.

Commissioners opted to do nothing. And at that point, enforcement of the noise ordinance came to a halt.

"As a result, some citizens that have experienced noise problems have contacted the (code enforcement) department and the board requesting relief from noise pollution,'' county staffers wrote in a memo to the board. "At the request of the board, staff has completed additional research on these concerns.''

Commissioners will consider several actions they could take to begin to enforce the ordinance again.

While several residents had suggested inexpensive or free computer software to measure sound, the staff determined that the county's ordinance required use of a noise meter meeting national standards.

"By using a noise meter that meets the American National Standards Institute requirements, we eliminate any challenge to the equipment,'' the staff notes. "A legal challenge based on the credibility of our equipment would be more costly in the long run than purchasing a meter that meets ANSI standards.''

The staff also points out that the county could ask the Sheriff's Office for help purchasing and maintaining the equipment. Each meter costs about $2,500, and the annual upkeep would be an estimated $500.

The staff points out that the ordinance would also have to be modified to include specific sound levels rather than the "plainly audible'' standard. But it recommends that the commission hold off while the courts sort out the legalities.

"Animal noise has been the most common complaint received, and regulation requires discussion,'' the staff wrote. "Recent complaints from citizens have included noise from parrots and roosters, both of which were previously exempt from the noise ordinance.''

Other complaints came from agricultural areas, which are subject to the state's Right to Farm Act. Those rules allow sounds that come with task of producing farm products.

Dog barking is regulated by county ordinance, and the staff suggests that the commission consider adding other nuisance animals to the list of those regulated.

Another option the staff gives commissioners is establishing setback requirements in county zoning laws to reduce noise issues from farm animals in agricultural areas.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins, whom the Petrjciks have contacted regarding their dog-barking issue, said noise complaints and, in particular, dog-barking complaints have been common. He has had to sit through several meetings where residents and county code enforcement officials have attempted to work through the complex issues.

Stabins said he hoped a solution can be reached that will maintain peace in Hernando neighborhoods.

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is emblazoned on our lives,'' he said. "It is difficult to pursue happiness when your neighbor from hell lets their dogs bark incessantly.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>FAST FACTS

Noise complaints

2007-08: 26 complaints,

15 violations, no citations

2008-09: 24 complaints,

11 violations, no citations

2009-10: 19 complaints,

11 violations, no citations

2010-11: 10 complaints, 4 violations, no citations (enforcement ended in July)

Source: Hernando County Code Enforcement

Hernando County to consider whether to enforce noise ordinance again 02/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 25, 2012 10:34am]
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