After Revisions,Village Noise Ordinance Close to Final Approval

The village courthouse was surprisingly quiet last Tuesday, October 16, as Hamilton’s third public hearing on its impending noise restricting legislation drew to a close. The new law, known locally as the noise ordinance, has been in the works for months, and has undergone numerous revisions in order to address the concerns of many interested par-ties. Now, after over a year of discussion and three public hear-ings, the Village of Hamilton is finally on the verge of putting this legislation into effect. According to its policy statement, the noise ordinance will attempt to “prevent unreasonably loud, disturb-ing and unnecessary noise and sounds and to reduce noise and sound levels within the Village so as to preserve, protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare and to foster convenience, peace and quiet within the Village by inhabitants and visi-tors.” It will do this by setting the legal limit of sound emanating beyond the property line of any premises at 70 decibels (dB). The ordinance does in-clude the possibility of applying for a special permit that would allow up to 80 dB however, and lists a number of exemptions to the 70 dB rule. “[Noise disturbance] has been a continuous problem in Hamilton throughout the years, but I think as sound systems have changed it has definitely gotten worse,” Village Mayor Marga-ret Miller said. Mayor Miller frequently fields complaints from town members about disturb-ing noise levels, particularly when the noise is emanating from off-campus student houses in residential areas. The noise ordinance has generated a lively debate this fall, filling the courthouse for both previous public hearings in August and Sep-tember. In these meetings many perspectives were represented, from students concerned with the legislation’s impact on concerts and other events, to small business owners and village residents concerned with the extent to which high noise levels impact their clientele or quality of life. Student Government Association (SGA) President Matt Ford was able to attend the public hearing in September and reported a charged atmosphere. “The meeting did have an anti-Colgate student sentiment, but there were several very vocal advocates of student responsi-bility as well,” Ford said. “I believe that the three to four people that had a bone to pick with students used this as their oppor-tunity – I do not think they accurately represented the senti-ments of the town … I have been working with Sam Cooper since I met him to find a manner in which student and local wishes can be respected with this ordinance.” “My biggest concern is the impact the ordinance will have on student organizations. [But] the SGA and school administration are currently reviewing the proposal with the village to ensure that stu-dent groups can hold events as they currently do,” Ford said. In Tuesday’s open meeting, however, only four individu-als were present beyond Village Council members and ad-ministrative staff. Mayor Miller suggested that by this point, most individuals seemed to feel they had already had an opportunity to get their voices heard. “A committee was formed in the September meeting, and they met before October’s public hearing to work through it all a little more,” Miller said. “The committee was a represen-tational group formed from the individuals present at the first meeting. They worked through some revisions that seemed to satisfy everyone. Trustee Cooper, my liaison for Public Safety, took charge of this initiative and also did a lot of research about what has been done on other college campuses.” One Colgate representative on the committee assembled by Village Trustee Sam Cooper was Colgate’s Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Scott C. Brown.

“We wanted to understand the specific concerns the Village has and would like to address with the proposed ordinance,” Brown said. “We asked at the town meeting if we might meet offline and better explore the implications before it came to vote. A small group from Colgate – [composed of ] faculty, student, staff – the Village attorney and several residents came to discus the proposal more in depth. This was undertaken with a spirit of understanding and I think there is a better sense of what are the true issues … [The final ordinance] will hopefully address unreasonable noise that is truly disturbing to residents, at the same time not unintentionally restricting many other aspects of life in the village.”

Cooper brought a new draft of the noise ordinance to Tuesday’s meeting. This draft incorporated some of the changes that had been discussed in the focus group. Along with Jim Stokes, village attorney and primary author of the legislation, Cooper had altered certain details in the text, to which he drew the council’s attention. These details includ-ed the duration and timing of sound permits, and the fact that all tenants of a residence would be required to co-sign sound permit requests. Rick Gifford, Hamilton’s Police Chief, raised an additional concern about the noise ordinance during Tuesday’s meeting.

“Does the 70 dB threshold tie our hands to this specific limit? If one of my officers takes a meter reading and it is below the threshold, but it is still a disturbance to the community, I want to make sure this won’t impede our ability to respond,” Gifford said.

Stokes responded that though the document specifies a legal limit, this does not eradicate the possibility of a police officer utilizing his or her own personal judgment. After 45 minutes of discussion, the third public hearing on the noise ordinance drew to a close with a statement from Mayor Miller suggesting that the vote on this legislation will almost certainly take place at the next hearing, at 7 p.m. on November 20.

Contact Rebekah Ward at

[email protected].