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County mulls noise ordinance changes
After two years of discussing complaints about party houses on St. Simons Island, the Glynn County Commission is trying to draft an ordinance to address the problem.

County Attorney Aaron Mumford made a presentation at Tuesday's commission workshop to outline ways to control parties at rental houses. Internet ads for some of the rental homes, mainly on St. Simons Island, describe them as ideal locations for weddings and other special events.

Mumford said the intent of the proposed ordinance is not to prohibit gatherings or events at single-family homes but to discourage private parties, receptions, reunions and other events that upset the tranquility and integrity of residential neighborhoods by creating noise and parking problems.

Residential property will be considered commercial and in violation of the proposed ordinance if the owner, lessee or resident charges an admission or membership fee, or receives payment or other consideration such as goods, property or services in excess of $100 for the use of the property. Charitable or religious organizations, candidates for public office and other nonprofit events with tax-exempt status will be allowed.

The frequency of an event should also be a consideration, Mumford said.

Commissioner Chairman Richard Strickland expressed frustration over the amount of time that has been spent dealing with the issue.

"It's just a shame we have to expend so much time and energy because people can't be good neighbors," he said.

After the meeting, Commissioner Mary Hunt said she wasn't certain the proposed ordinance will alleviate the problem of party houses.

"There's no teeth, there's no substance to it," she said. "I think it's being made into a more complicated matter than it needs to be. I think there is a solution that is easy, simple and to the point."

Hunt said the county needs to put in writing definitions of commercial and residential properties. She said limiting the number of weddings and other gatherings at private homes each year may be another solution.

Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering also presented recommendations to the county's noise ordinance that will affect both residential neighborhoods and commercial businesses.

In his recommendation, based on an Athens-Clarke County noise ordinance, Doering suggests using distance to determine when noise is excessive.

A plainly audible noise that can be heard inside the living area of a dwelling 5 feet from the exterior when all doors and windows are closed would be a violation. The only exception would be commercial enterprises that have an adjoining property line with a residential dwelling.

Noises plainly audible from 300 feet or more from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. would be a violation. The distance is reduced to 100 feet from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. regardless of how the noise is created.

The ordinance applies to parties or social events and noise generated from residential dwellings, as well as commercial businesses.

Unless a permit has been issued, it is unlawful for bars and other establishments to create noise that is clearly audible 100 feet or more from the premise.

Doering said noise complaints would have to be validated by an officer before a citation is issued.

"The goal is to educate the public so they can self-enforce," he said.

The meeting attracted business owners, who were not allowed to speak. They were told public comments weren't allowed at the workshop but that they would have an opportunity to speak at a later meeting.

Joe McDonough, owner of Ocean Lodge, a hotel and restaurant on St. Simons Island, said the noise ordinance is a "quagmire for businesses."

"They have restricted the use of restaurants to the interior," he said. "With this new ordinance, you can't even have an outside deck without fear of exceeding the noise ordinance."

Unless the ordinance is amended, McDonough said, he risks being cited if a server "puts two plates on a table."

During much of the tourist season, McDonough said people will wait as long as an hour to eat on the deck, rather than be seated inside immediately.

McDonough said live music is performed on his deck on Friday and Saturday nights until 10 p.m., but he noted he has been cited three times recently for complaints filed within minutes of 9 p.m. He said music always ends by 10 p.m. out of consideration for hotel guests and neighbors living in nearby residential areas.

Hunt said she was supportive of the proposed requirement that anyone filing a noise complaint must be willing to be identified.

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