Newark’s noise ordinance was first drafted in 1981 and hasn’t been amended since 1988, but now, in the wake of the failed power plant project, several members of council are suggesting changes to modernize the local law and protect residents’ quality of life in the future.
On Monday, council gathered for a sound workshop led by Valentino De Rocili, a senior consultant with Complian Environmental, Inc., and sought advice about what changes, if any, to make to the ordinance.
District 3 Councilman Rob Gifford said when it comes to updating the law, he is more concerned with “constant noise in the district” than the occasional loud party.
“The thing we’re challenged with is we have a noise ordinance written for loud parties, and maybe loud events, but then when we have a large industrial complex come in, we weren’t sure this ordinance was strict enough to allow people to continue to enjoy their homes or sleep at night with the windows open,” he told De Rocili Monday night, referring to The Data Centers LLC’s now-defunct plan to construct a data center and 279-megawatt power plant on the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus.
The city’s current code states that in residence and university districts, noise cannot be louder than 57 decibels between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. or louder than 52 decibels between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. Industrial, manufacturing, office and research districts are capped at 85 decibels at all times, while business districts are restricted to 63 decibels between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and 59 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Following De Rocili’s presentation, District 6 Councilman Stu Markham suggested council take a “three-pronged approach” to writing the ordinance, focusing on enforcement, permitting by making the ordinance part of the project approval process and types of required materials that reduce noise.
“It seems like it’s three pieces to the puzzle,” he said.
De Rocili noted that when council members look to change the ordinance, they should consider frequency, as sounds with higher frequencies are less tolerable than those with lower frequencies at the same volume. He also advised they take a closer look at their definition of “noise disturbance.”
“That’s the key to your ordinance,” De Rocili said.
He said Newark’s ordinance differs from the state’s in that the city focuses on noise generated by who and at what time of day, where the state focuses on noise generated by industrial, commercial and residential and how they affect one another and at what time, using a table to organize the different noise requirements for each.
De Rocili suggested council look at Newark’s noise levels for ultrasound and infrasound, which currently require no more than 100 decibels.
Infrasound can be generated from sonic booms and explosions, by diesel engines, wind turbines, industrial vibration tables and large-scale subwoofer loudspeakers like rotary woofers, while ultrasound is a frequency greater than the upper limit of the human hearing range.
“I think that’s something you definitely want to change,” De Rocili said. “100 decibels is pretty loud.”
Following Monday night’s workshop, Gifford said he felt council was on the same page when it came to the basics of sound. He said De Rocili “hinted” there were things they should change and certain noise levels were too high, which was helpful.
“He confirmed our suspicions that we have an outdated ordinance,” Gifford said.
Resident Amy Roe said she was unimpressed with the presentation, which she thought should have been more geared toward helping the city move forward in changing the ordinance, instead of a lesson on sound.
“I wish he had a map of Newark and said, ‘This is where you should measure,’” she said.
Resident and UD professor John Morgan said he thought the workshop got council members thinking.
“I think it was a very good first step,” he said.
Gifford said council will continue the discussion at an upcoming council meeting and direct staff as to what the next steps are as far as changing the ordinance, whether that involves conducting a sound study or hiring another consultant.
“Either we’re going to draft it ourselves or find someone to help us draft it,” Gifford said.