Debate Over City’s Noise Ordinance Continues

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Thursday May 03, 2018

A public hearing was held regarding amendments to the city’s Public Nuisance Ordinance at the April 16 council meeting. This is the third time the ordinance has come before the council for a ‘second reading.’ Debate around adjustments to this ordinance has been ongoing for months; at issue are the stipulated quiet hours for dogs and cats as well as the permitted hours of operation for trash haulers. Currently, noise generated by animals is prohibited between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. The same hours apply to trash haulers, although there has been a push by some councilors and the public to move that up an hour to a 7 a.m start time. As in previous meetings, discussion was robust from councilors and the public.

Dr. Christine DiBlasio, co-owner of Stone House Associates, located off of Hinesburg Road and adjacent to the dog daycare and boarding facility Happy Tails Pet Resort and Spa, was present once again at the April 16 meeting to support her complaint regarding the noise generated by barking dogs. Stone House Associates is a business offering mental health care and counseling services. DiBlasio pointed out that both daytime and night-time dog noise can be problematic and that, currently, there are no regular noise checks conducted by the city. Enforcing the noise ordinance is the challenge, DiBlasio explained. She has gone so far as to track, both in writing and through recordings, the consistent disruptions from barking she and her clients have been experiencing. DiBlasio tracked the noise for two weeks and noted a minimum of 30 minutes of barking up to a maximum of hours, audible even with the windows closed. “It’s intermittent and unpredictable,” she said, “I purchased the property with the noise ordinance in place and assumed it would remain. I need to comply with it, but I don’t benefit from it.”

Brad Dousevicz, real estate developer for Rye Meadows said he is in the process of building fifty homes nearby and the dog daycare facility affects the marketability of those homes. Dousevicz said he never knew the building was going up since technically his property does not abut the facility, and he wasn’t required to be notified. “I think the DRB (Development Review Board) put in a use that shouldn’t be there … I’ve called the SBPD (South Burlington Police Department) repeatedly [about the noise] and they explained that the owner of the dog can be ticketed, but not the owner of the facility.”

Attorney A.J. LaRosa of Murphy, Sullivan, Kronk was present to represent Happy Tails. LaRosa argued that a council public hearing was not the place to discuss these matters and that a new zoning hearing should take place, noting that the business is operating as permitted by the DRB. LaRosa felt his client’s livelihood was being attacked and mentioned that rumors have been circulating that the city is trying to shut them down.

A fellow therapist at Stone House Associates who works with highly traumatized people that require calm said she also finds the barking is disturbing. In addition, she said that she has heard the barking dogs being loudly disciplined on occasion.

Several clients of Happy Tails were in attendance at the meeting to speak in support of the business, and rejected the notion that the dogs are disciplined in a negative way. One Williston resident said her 18-pound terrier “jumps for joy” when he knows he is on his way there and she could not imagine the owners ever allowing a dog to be in distress. Gail Rosenberg of Burlington reiterated this point, saying that any suggestion that the dogs are screamed at is “so untrue and wrong … this is the best facility in the area … they are the most involved and caring people. It’s an amazing place.”

However, Mark Barton, co-owner of Stone House Associates, said having Happy Tails next to the psychotherapist offices is like “putting a school for marching bands next to a migraine headache place.” He explained that he is not trying to put Happy Tails out of business. The previous location of his business was on busy Dorset Street, but the firetruck and other traffic generated noise only occurred a few minutes at a time and the dogs, he said, are barking for hours at a time, although some days are better than others. In reference to the proposed change to the ordinance, Barton wondered, “If it’s creating a nuisance, why make it more permissible?”

As the public hearing came to a close, questions remained around permitted uses and land development regulations. Therefore, no specific action was taken on the dog and cat noise portion of the ordinance until a meeting with legal counsel occurs.

Regarding the trash haulers, Barritt proposed moving the trash hauler pickup time to 7 a.m. for residential neighborhoods with no change proposed on pickup hours in industrial/commercial areas. Fellow councilors agreed.

The council did not propose any specific action regarding the noise regulation around dogs/cats until they meet with legal counsel. The fourth, “second reading” and public hearing is scheduled for May 21 at 7:30 p.m.


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent