The Grinnell City Council has decided to play librarian by voting to implement a giant ‘shhh!’ to the citizens of the Grinnell in the form of a new noise ordinance.
The ordinance, passed and approved by the Grinnell City Council Nov. 2, enacts provisions to prevent excessive sound that is perceived as hazardous to the public health and welfare of the residents.
Discussion of the noise ordinance first appeared in the council’s minutes from Oct. 5, which cited a meeting held by the council on Sept. 22.
According to Chief of Police Jody Matherly, before discussion of the new ordinance began, only two laws regulated noise levels in city limits of Grinnell.
“There were only two laws on the books—one was a state law that said you can’t make loud or reckless noise near residents,” Chief Matherly said. “That helped sometimes with loud music or something in a residential area. The other law was for loud motor vehicles.”
As stated in the ordinance, measurements of sound will be made with a decibel meter that meets the American National Standards Institute and will be taken from the edge of a city street, an alley right-of-way or the location from which the complaining party was disturbed
Decibel levels set by the ordince will be considered excessive and arel be subject to regulation. In residential areas, between the hours of 7 a.m. and midnight, a reading exceeding 60 decibels will give police the authority to issue a warning or citation. In a commercial or agricultural zone, sound may not exceed 65 decibels, which is equivalent to conversational speech. Readings in ndustrial zoned areas may not go over 80 decibels, which is equivalent to the noise level inside of a traveling bus.
Breaking the ordinance can result in a fine of up to 500 dollars and a couple of days in jail, according to Chief Matherly.
In order to determine what sound levels would be acceptable for Grinnell, Chief Matherly referred to the sound ordinance of Ames, Iowa.
“They are also a college town and are sensitive to the fact that there are….parties,” Matherly said. “We want the kids to enjoy themselves.”
Mayor of the City of Grinnell Gordon R. Canfield said that the immediate need for the noise control is a fairly new occurrence.
“It’s a new thing we’ve never had to have it before but were starting to get more complaints about loud noises,” Canfield said. “It isn’t so much about one time having something happen.”
James White, member of the Grinnell City Council since January 1986 and owner of Bates Flowers believes that the need to enact a noise ordinance originated from complaints by citizens about certain businesses in town.
“We had some neighbors that were complaining,” White said. “As council members we were called in the middle of the night, with complaints of loud noises from bars.”
Fellow councilman Larry Wilson, a member of the Public Safety Committee within the City Council for approximately 10 years, cites a particular establishment for causing the push behind the ordinance.
“The main reason is The 9th Hole opening up and the residential area getting all the noise,” Wilson said.
The 9th Hole, located at 310 6th Ave., west of Highway 146, opened in April of 2008, was one of the bars to receive continuous objections to nose from residences in the area.
“Neighbors were continuously calling in complaints of noise,” said Jerry O’Halloran, owner of The 9th Hole. “We are in a residential area and some of the residents don’t really like us there.”
O’Halloran believes that by passing the ordinance the council is simply doing what they need to in order to keep the residents of Grinnell content.
“The City Council is doing what they need to do to pass their constituents,” O’Halloran said.
Due to his bar’s noise zone, O’Halloran doesn’t foresee any problems arising from the ordinance code.
“We’ve actually taken decibel readings. We’re in an industrial area so 65 decibels won’t affect us at all,” O’Halloran said. “We could be much louder than we are now. [The ordinance] could be more of a detriment to the people who keep calling in than any help to them. It doesn’t affect us that much.”
Though the noise ordinance will apply to all parts of the city, Chief of Police Jody Matherly believes that this will not be problematic for the current college campus atmosphere
“This wasn’t even geared toward the college atmosphere. It was geared toward businesses,” Chief Matherly said. “The college neighborhood area is pretty easy to control. We don’t get a lot of noise complaints with the College.”
Director of Campus Security and Safety at Grinnell College Stephen Briscoe doesn’t think that the new ordinance will be detrimental to the College.
“It’s more of a city ordinance, so they will probably do what they have done—they can either respond to [the complaint] or give us a call and we can respond to them when its on campus,” Briscoe said. “We’re just in the city and the ordinance covers that.”
Though sanctioned for various reasons, the law is not just geared toward one type of noise.
“[The ordinance] doesn’t just look at bars, doesn’t just look at kids congregating, it doesn’t just look at outside bands,” White said. “It’s kind of an overall, general noise ordinance that could be music, cars, talking, whatever.”
Although a well defined noise ordinance may seem daunting, those interviewed stressed the overall goal is much less about targeting certain groups as it is concerned with providing a peaceful environment for the entire population of Grinnell.
“We want to make sure if someone’s peace and tranquility is being disturbed, we can help them with that and this is a tool to help them with that,” Chief Matherly said. “It’s important for sanity reasons.”
—Additional Reporting by Bassil Alcheikh