City Council revives noise ordinance

By ROSS LINKER | October 10, 2007

A new Baltimore City Council bill seeks to revive a noise ordinance, which had stalled in committee last spring. Bill 07-0717, first introduced on June 11, redefines the parameters of an older bill that sought to add excessive noise to a list of neighborhood nuisances.

Support for the original bill, introduced in 2005 by Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, current City Council president, increased following Phi Kappa Psi's housing battle in April. However it soon stalled.

"Noise criteria was hard to fit in [the original bill]," said Shaun Adamec, Rawlings-Blake's communications director. "The Council found there would be a lot of difficulty in measuring noise objectively."

This past summer, Councilwoman Helen Holton proposed a new bill that would have the noise ordinance be complaint-driven. The bill states that for residents who are cited twice for acting as "neighborhood nuisances" there is a possibility that the offenders could be evicted from their homes.

In addition, any activity that the legislation defines as a local "nuisance" - including, "the unreasonable use of profanity, cursing, or swearing" - could be cited by law enforcement officials with the same penalty applying.

"Unlike the last bill, which would have added to a preexisting law, Councilwoman Holton's bill will create a new law," Adamec said.

"It will solve the original bill's problems."

So far, the council has reported the bill favorable, Adamec explained. On Oct. 15, the council will vote on a second reader for the bill.

"I don't think the bill is constitutional," commented Matthew Crenson, professor of Political Science at Hopkins. "I don't know if this will constitute due process of law."

According to Crenson, the opportunities to appeal the decision for eviction could very easily take longer to achieve than the actual length of the punishment. In addition, the bill barely relies on police involvement, rather calling for the community to take action.

"This opens itself to abuse," Crenson noted. "It can become an instrument of neighborhood conflict."

Furthermore, Crenson feels that the very idea of a noise ordinance in a city environment is close to being ridiculous.

"People have to realize that cities are noisy and there are plenty of things that could disturb the peace," he said.

In April 2007, the original bill was revived during action against Hopkins's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

Following a lengthy hearing, involving testimony from neighbors and community members, Phi Psi lost a house on Canterbury Road in a primarily residential area, due to controversial zoning decisions.

The housing battle generated support for "nuisance free" residential sectors in Baltimore and for Rawlings-Blake's noise ordinance bill. However, while roughly two thirds of the city council supported the issue, the proposal ultimately failed to gain significant momentum.

In this law, residencies that had sound levels above 55 decibels could be subject to legal action. Her law, though, was an amendment to a pre-existing law and failed to see any sort of city council action.

The document stipulates that the eviction can only be maintained for a maximum of one year and that there are opportunities to either shorten or remove the punishment both before and after the initial accusation.

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