© The Stoneham Independent
Satisfied construction-related noise nuisances can be otherwise regulated, the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night abandoned a newly proposed sound bylaw.
During a regular meeting on Tuesday night in Town Hall, the Board of Selectmen renewed debate over a series of local regulations and new permitting fees, which town officials say are needed in order to protect the character of residential neighborhoods during large-scale public construction projects.
At the advice of DPW employee David Lizotte, who pieced together each of the bylaw packages, the elected officials eventually agreed to eliminate a separate set of sound regulations, which town officials worried could eventually result in bans on residential use of lawnmowers and landscaping equipment.
According to Lizotte, who explained he never intended to regulate homeowners or small landscaping businesses in that fashion, he has addressed the issue by updating bylaws that relate directly to public utilities and contractors performing large-scale construction projects.
"By satisfying those two changes [to other bylaws], that makes the noise ordinance null-and-void," Lizotte explained.
Particularly concerned about Eversource's plans to bury a 345,000 volt transmission line underneath various Stoneham roadways, including the entire length of Montvale Avenue and Elm Street, the legislative packages would establish concrete application criteria for those seeking the issuance of grant-of-location and street opening permits.
The new bylaws will also enact a series of enforcement measures, which will allow public works officials to take action against public utilities or contractors that generate excessive noise and/or fail to restore roadways back to their pre-construction conditions.
A third set of regulations regards stormwater management systems and clarifies that private landowners and developers are fully responsible for mitigating to state guidelines any runoff from their properties.
Given the scope of the Eversource project, which will last some 22-months and impact neighborhoods in the four communities of Woburn, Winchester, Stoneham, and Wakefield, local officials have thus far shown broad support for the bylaw initiatives, which will be debated by citizens at a Special Town Meeting scheduled for June 5.
However, earlier this month, Town Administrator Thomas Younger and Selectman George Seibold challenged the scope of the proposed noise regulations, which they contended could be interpreted as applying to regular citizens and homeowners.
Under the proposal, contractors and citizens alike would have to mitigate by erecting noise barriers or otherwise refrain from any activity that generates excessive noise that exceeds thresholds established by federal highway and transportation officials.
According to Seibold, the rules reminded him of a similar measure implemented in Arlington, where small landscaping companies have apparently been prohibited from using leaf blowers. The selectman also worried about burdening smaller businesses with the noise mitigation requirements.
"My friend lives in Arlington, and that was a very hot topic. It generated a lot of animosity, and I didn't want to see that here," said the selectman on Tuesday night.
Earlier this month, the town administrator, worried about how the sound bylaw would be enforced, predicted the rules would cause unintended consequences for residents.
Specifically mentioning the noise bylaw, which would require contractors and citizens alike to mitigate or refrain from any activity that generates between 45 and 55 decibels of sound over ambient levels, the town administrator questioned how those measurements will be taken.
"You have to be able to enforce them. Do we need to buy different equipment and materials? All of this has to be worked out in advance," he said. "I want to make sure those responsible for [determining compliance and levying fines] have the tools to do that and understand what's happening."
"With this noise bylaw, you are going to get calls for parties and other things. If someone [from the police department shows up], residents could say, 'Here's a copy of the bylaw and it says you can't exceed X decibels.' But how will the officer [be able to make that determination]?"
According to Lizotte, the town will still be able to regulate excessive noise through the other bylaws, which ensures the rules will only apply to those digging up public streets and rights-of-way.