By unanimous vote, aldermen approve new noise ordinance

Published 3:00 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2023

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to approve a new noise ordinance for the city, one that is based on noise that will be measured by a decibel reader.

The city’s police officers will have decibel readers available to them and will be trained on how to use them.

At a public hearing Tuesday night at the city’s Council Chamber, citizens were invited to provide their comments on the ordinance, which has been available for reading for more than a month on the city’s website and a copy of which has been available through a link in a story on the subject on The Natchez Democrat website.

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Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson provided a brief preview of the ordinance at the beginning of the hearing.

He said the city’s new ordinance is based on ones in place in Columbus and Ocean Springs; cities similar to Natchez in size, are historic and are frequented by tourists.

“The current noise ordinance has been subjective issue for a number of years. What is loud to one may not be loud to another,” Gibson said. “The new ordinance will aid police officers in their ability to measure noise levels and in enforcement.”

Gibson said the city will be broken into zones depending on whether the area is predominately commercial or residential, historic or central business district.

He said the following activities and events are exempt from the noise ordinance: ballgames or sporting events, parades, functions organized by the city, church bells, emergency vehicles, warning devices and sirens, Visit Natchez sponsored events. Residents and businesses may operate power tools, lawn mowers and other equipment between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Also exempt are golf course lawn and maintenance activities and city employees engaged in work.

Gibson provided this list of shall nots: sound equipment that exceeds decibel limits set by the ordinance, construction noise outside the hours of 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. However, he can written application can be made to the mayor and board of aldermen to allow these activities, or a special permit can be sought from the city’s chief of police.

Also prohibited are vehicles and equipment like generators associated with food and beverage refrigeration and storage outside of 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.; loud vehicles, including sound equipment, vehicles out of repair or modified in such a way as to create loud noises, including spinning or squealing of tires, grating or rattling, that is audible beyond 30 feet away; habitual animal barking; operating amplified sound equipment on public streets unless authorized by another section of the ordinance.

Gibson said businesses that operate sound equipment must appoint a responsible party regarding decisions in operating that equipment. He said there will be restrictions on outdoor entertainment.

“If having outdoor entertainment, name and telephone number of the responsible party or manager must be available and those individuals must be on site and available by lawful request of City of Natchez police officers,” he said. “No outdoor entertainment shall be provided before 10 a.m. or after 11 p.m.

“Again, in certain events, individuals can receive permission and the police chief will retain her ability to grant special permits.”

He said the ordinance contains a chart that identifies the different area or zones of the city and the noise limits for those zones.

“There is a chart that becomes the real handy in this ordinance, found on Page 11 of the ordinance, that gives the hours and the sound level areas of our city — the historic district, central business district, commercial, residential, multi unit. Some areas are as low as 35 (decibels) during certain quiet times in a multi unit facility, from 10 p.m to 10 a.m. However, it does go up in certain areas to 70 or 80, based on the location. I would encourage everyone to become familiar with their area and what is permitted,” Gibson said.

Penalties can range from a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 90 days, according to the ordinance.

“No ordinance is worth its wait without penalties and enforcement. Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor. And is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 90 days,” he said. “I don’t see anyone being imprisoned for violating this ordinance, but all of our ordinances have that in the ordinance as a minimum because we just want to make sure people are in compliance. Also, that penalty can be applied each day a violation continues because each day will be considered separate events.”

He said police may instruct the manager of the business to reduce or stop all of the noise coming from sound equipment, allowing them to come into compliance with the ordinance.

“Should a business person or manager fail to comply with this section, the business must cease all operations for the remainder of that business day,” Gibson said. “Basically, follow the law or there are consequences.”

Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said he preferred the noise ordinance provide the same rules for all areas of the city. However, Gibson explained such would not be fair because residential areas have different needs than those areas that are mostly commercial.

Also, the ordinance allows for the city’s chief of police to issue special exception permits for those events that require such.

Henry Watts of Lindberg Avenue said he is in favor of the new noise ordinance.

“I read a study recently that said noise pollution is in direct correlation to violent crime, and I believe that,” Watts said.

He said his street has lots of noise during times when it should not.

“There is lots of noise on my street from trucks and ATVs with loud pipes, no mufflers and loud engines,” Watts said. “I am glad to see this ordinance, but hour are you going to police it or prove it?”

W.C. Curtis, who is a manager at Club Paradise, asked about the new ordinance and what areas it covers. He was told the noise ordinance will effect the entire city.

Floyd Newman, who said he owns Club Paradise, said the city has too many rules now.

“There are so many rules in Natchez, I would no more move here again,” Newman said.

David Haywood, owner of Truth Lounge on Franklin Street, asked if the noise would be measured with the door of the nightclub closed or opened.

Gibson said the noise would be measured with the door closed.

Haywood also asked if the ordinance would have a grace period for business owners.

Gibson said the new noise ordinance would not take effect until 30 days after its passage.

After the public hearing and the aldermen’s meeting continued, Frazier complained that the current noise ordinance is effective and that it would take “a rocket scientist to read the decibel reader.”

However, when the vote was taken, all aldermen voted in favor of enacting the new ordinance.