Should Alexandrians have the right to use gas-powered leafblowers to clear away their yards or are they a noisy nuisance that should be blown away?
Well, right now the city can’t ban them even if they wanted to, but the city’s legislative package includes a request for localities to get permission to prohibit the use of gas-powered leafblowers as both an environmental hazard and a nuisance for neighbors.
In a Waterfront Commission meeting last week, William Skrabak, deputy director for infrastructure and environmental quality, said it was probably unlikely that the city would even obtain that permission this year. But Skrabak said the goal is to start a conversation about the issue that could bear fruit down the road.
Photo via Philip Myrtorp/Unsplash
Alexandria is hoping to cut back on the noise nuisance from leafblowers and street buskers.
At a Waterfront Commission meeting last week, city staff discussed changes made to the noise code in December.
“[For busking] the only change is the same provisions in the business district are now city-wide,” said William Skrabak, deputy director for infrastructure and environmental quality.
Skrabak said the decibel standard actually loosened slightly for commercial properties, from 60 decibels to 65 at the property line until 11 p.m., but the main issue with noise in the city is lack of resources for enforcement.
“Our office is the only one with noise meters,” Skrabak said. “We do occasionally schedule measurements at night, but the one position that’s primary inspector position is currently vacant, so we’ve been struggling to fill that gap. We are hoping additional resources come out of the manager’s [budget]. I think that would have more of an impact than code changes if we have additional resources.”
Skrabak also said there’s been complaints to the city about noise levels from leafblowers.
“There is a lot of interest in our community about controlling leafblowers,” Skrabak said. “Leafblowers are inherently louder and more obnoxious than other equipment. Because of the Dillon Rule, we don’t currently have the legal authority to prohibit leaf blowers, but [the city] did include that in our legislative package — to start the process to get enabling legislation down in Richmond so localities could potentially [either] prohibit entirely or [require] an electric one, which is a little quieter.”
Skrabak said it was unlikely to be approved this year, but it at least gets the conversation started.
“We’re not optimistic we’re going to get it on the first try,” Skrabak said. “Sometimes these things take a couple of years and multiple localities to start pushing.”
Some on the Waterfront Commission said pushing for change on leafblower policy is long overdue.
“Electric leafblowers area no-brainer,” said Waterfront Commission member Patricia Webb. “We have to do that for the environment as well as noise and it should have been done years ago, but we also need to have quiet hours like most cities have, especially on Sundays and holidays. I don’t know how many times I’ve planned to have people out on the deck and we’ve had to go inside or elsewhere because someone is doing their self-help project… People just have no sense of decency anymore and we have to impose quiet hours for the well-being of people’s lives at home.”
Stephen Thayer said consternation around noise levels for street musicians comes in large part from “competing buskers” at the 100 block of King Street who perform until 11 p.m. and later.
But others argued that pushing for more resources to tackle busking and other noise issues was a heavy-handed approach to an overblown issue.
“Noise ordinance doesn’t take into account true noise or nuisance, like the quality of noise,” said Waterfront Commisioner Nate Macek. “It’s a flatfooted way of addressing this need. I would not personally support further resources in this area. I think it’s a fool’s errand and a waste of city resources and it’s the opposite of where we need to be headed as a city.”
The Waterfront Commission approved a recommendation that the city invests more heavily in enforcing noise ordinances, noting Macek’s objection.
It’s another beautiful, sunny day in Old Town where you occasionally can’t hear the person standing next to you speaking because an airplane from National Airport is flying directly overhead.
Airplane noise has been constant source of frustration in recent years for residents of Alexandria and neighborhoods in Fairfax just to the south. If you’ve complained that it seems like it’s gotten worse lately, the city confirmed that suspicion in a presentation for a meeting planned next Tuesday (Oct. 26).
“Aircraft take-offs (are) no longer staying over the Potomac River,” the report noted. “NextGen technology allows earlier turns, closer to the airport. FAA noise screening analysis showed an increase in noise for a few blocks in Alexandria. Fairfax County and Prince George’s County have similar noise issues.”
The city’s aim, according to the presentation, is to push that overhead airplane traffic toward the center of the river and further south.
“[The city objective is] to push the flight path to the east toward the center of the Potomac River, further away from the City,” the presentation said, “[and] reduce the number of early east and west turning movements before the Woodrow Wilson bridge.”
The presentation noted that City Manager Mark Jinks has been working with affected jurisdictions nearby — Prince George’s County and Fairfax County — to hire a consultant to study possible noise mitigation measures. The Study is $250,000 being split between the three jurisdictions.
Even so, the presentation warned that any potential fixes are still years way.
“Due to the long process, many stakeholders, and the backlog of flight path modifications under consideration by the FAA, it is expected that any proposed flight path modifications will not be reviewed and potentially changed for another two to three years,” the city said.
What a week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.
The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday approved its Fiscal Year 2022 $770.7 million budget on Wednesday, and it includes a 2 cent real estate tax reduction. It’s the first time that’s happened in 15 years, and the budget also fully funds Alexandria City Public Schools’ request and includes a 1% raise for city and state employees.
But perhaps the biggest news of the week came with City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to eliminate School Resource Officer funding from the budget. The effort was supported along by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who voted along with the group after failing to save the program in a last-minute effort.
Crime stories dominated many headlines, and Police Chief Michael Brown spoke with us this week about his department’s efforts to reduce destructive elements throughout the city. More from that interview will be published next week.
In this week’s poll, we asked about the importance of political endorsements for local candidates. Out of 222 responses, 48% (107 votes) don’t consider endorsements while voting; 39% (86 votes) said endorsements influence their decision; and 14% (29 votes) feel that endorsements hold a lot of sway.
- City Council candidates clash on critical local issues, Part 1
- City Council candidates clash on critical local issues, Part 2
- NEW: Alexandria School Board shakeup looms as few incumbents have filed to run for reelection
- Election: Northam endorses Wilson for reelection
- Here’s which City Council candidates signed the new ‘Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights’ pledge
- COVID-19 update: 40% of residents got first vaccine shot, 29% got second shot
- Old Town dominated the city in 2020 business grant funding
- NEW: Man sentenced 41 months for targeting Alfred Street Baptist Church, journalists and others in ‘swatting’ conspiracy
- Developer JBG Smith joins J.P. Morgan Global Alternatives to own and manage 2 million square feet of Potomac Yard
- ACPS could adjust grades in recognition of COVID challenges
- West End man with history of violent behavior taken into custody
- Appeal to save North Ridge home takes fight to City Council
- Girlfriend of murder suspect arrested for breaking into home and beating up witness
- Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
- Knife pulled on woman who chases would-be thieves in Old Town
- D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
- Police: Armed robberies occur minutes apart in Del Ray and Arlandria
- Two injured in hit-and-run in Old Town, driver leaves car and flees on foot
- Too noisy? City Council is considering revising Alexandria’s noise ordinance
- Alexandria City Council to end School Resource Officer program at Alexandria City Public Schools
- Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
- Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
- JUST IN: Power outages across Alexandria as strong winds hit the city
- What’s next for GenOn and the rest of Old Town North?
Have a safe weekend!
With noise complaints on the rise from residents throughout the city, the Alexandria City Council will consider an updated noise ordinance next month.
Following its adoption, the ordinance will then go out for public review throughout the summer.
“Excessive noise is one of the most prevalent causes of civic disputes,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in his May newsletter.
Council will make additional changes and vote on the matter in next year’s budget.
The creation of a new noise ordinance started in the fall of 2019, but was shelved by the pandemic. Last year, Police reported a total of 2,451 noise complaints, and the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services reported a 55% increase in 2020, with 366 complaints.
“Following that adoption there will be new community engagement to prepare additional adjustments to the ordinance, as we attempt to balance the vibrancy of our business districts with protecting quality of life for our residents,” Wilson said.
Council will look at options on limiting noise in public places to 60 decibels (about the volume of a normal conversation) within 10 feet of a structure, and nothing louder than 65 decibels (about the volume of an average dishwasher) in a public place within 50 feet of a structure.
Additionally, the city is considering increasing fines to $50 to $100 for a first violation, $100 to $250 for a second violation, and $500 for all subsequent violations. Other proposed limitations include prohibiting “plainly audible” noise from residential areas from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and increasing the allowable decibels in commercial areas from 60 dB to 65 dB.
The city will also consider hiring a “multi-tasked noise inspector” who would solely focus on noise complaints.
A local addition to the National Defense Authorization Act — a $740 billion bill approved through the House and Senate and headed to the White House — would require the Pentagon to establish a helicopter noise abatement group for the region.
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer (D) would also require the Pentagon to establish a noise inquiry website based on the DCA’s complaint website.
“Since I took office, complaints about aircraft noise have been one of the most consistent sources of calls to my office,” Beyer said in an email. “We get calls about airplanes on approach and departure to and from DCA, and increasingly about military helicopters across the region, many of which fly in and out of Fort Belvoir. I had a town hall on the issue a few years ago in Fairlington, which has been particularly affected, and it was clear that people wanted ways to track and report noise complaints, and to have a forum for ongoing discussion about ways to mitigate that noise which would include input from the local community.”
While the bill has been approved by both chambers, a threatened veto over changing the names of bases named after Confederate leaders could still keep the helicopter noise solution from moving forward.
“With its adoption in the House we are now on track to get this enacted,” Beyer said. “Given the work that MWAA has already done in some of these areas it just makes sense for the Pentagon to look at what they have done, take what worked well, and make changes in areas that they could improve.”
Flickr pool photo by Jeff Sonderman
Lost Dog Cafe, a popular restaurant at 808 N. Henry Street near the Braddock Metro station and part of a regional franchise, expressed frustration at the proposed limits on Twitter.
How about people who don’t like common City related noises stop living in a City? The current ordinance is the height of NIMBY and Anti-business. A handful of complainers ruining things for thousands of other residents and businesses @justindotnet @j_chapman99 @AlexandriaEcon https://t.co/8zFoO1kveu
— Lost Dog Alexandria (@LostDogCafeAlex) October 29, 2019
The ordinance would limit noise in public places citywide to 65 decibels (about the volume of a normal conversation) in a public place within 10 feet of a structure, and nothing louder than 75 decibels (about the volume of an average dishwasher) in a public place within 50 feet of a structure.
Other proposed limitations include new nighttime measures from 11 p.m.-7 a.m. that would prohibit audible noise from one residence that reaches another and commercial loading or unloading.
Lost Dog Alexandria owner Matthew Sisk told ALXnow that his main frustration was that many of the plans seem already predetermined by the time they reach public input.
“I think, in general, a lot of what the city puts out for changes to regulations… they don’t do a very good job of circulating that through the business community,” owner Matthew Sisk told ALXnow. “We get caught off guard by these changes with very little time to respond or [offer a] rebuttal.”
The city is currently collecting input on the changes, which are scheduled to go to the City Council for a vote early next year.
Sisk said he appreciated the need for noise ordinances, but said excessive noise complaints can sometimes lead to frustrations for businesses with any nighttime or outdoor activity. Noise was cited as one of the reasons for an outdoor dining ban in Old Town that lasted until 2000, according to the Alexandria Times. In Vienna, hookah bar Bey Lounge has been in a long legal struggle with nearby residents over noise complaints.
“I think the base reason for a noise complaint is good,” Sisk said. “Nobody wants people next door blasting music. But at decibel they’re putting out as the threshold it becomes a weapon for disgruntled residents to use against the city as a whole or specific businesses.”
If the new noise ordinance moves forward, Sisk said the city needs to work to balance managing legitimate noise complaints with the nuisance caused by frivolous noise complaints.
A few years ago, Sisk said he might not have been hopeful of that happening, but recently there have been signs of change.
“I’m happy to own a business in Alexandria, but Alexandria isn’t business-friendly,” Sisk said. “But I will give [City Council] credit, that’s changing slowly.”
Sisk praised responsiveness from city leaders like Mayor Justin Wilson, who responded to his complaints on Twitter.
You referring to the current ordinance, or the draft ordinance? If the draft ordinance, what portion has you concerned?
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) October 29, 2019
Sisk said he is still worried that too much work has gone into putting the noise ordinance together for the city to be willing to make changes, but that the direction the city government has been moving gives him hope for some responsiveness.
“You have people who still see it as a quiet town, but it’s an urban environment,” Sisk said. “The city is making advances and it’s getting better by the year. It’s better than it used to be.”
Photo via Lost Dog Cafe/Facebook
The City of Alexandria could be restricting noise limits citywide, and double violations fines as part of new ordinances.
City staff are proposing a citywide noise limit of 65 decibels (about the volume of a normal conversation) in a public place within 10 feet of a structure, and nothing louder than 75 decibels (about the volume of an average dishwhasher) in a public place within 50 feet of a structure.
Previously, those limits only applied to Alexandria’s Central Business District.
In a presentation shared with residents, officials note that the existing 53-year-old noise regulations on the books are long overdue for an update. The old rules don’t include information about loading times for delivery trucks and measuring noise across property lines, for example.
Now staff are proposing several updates, including:
- A loading truck ban from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day.
- A quiet hours designation for “plainly audible sound” in residential areas, from 11 p.m.-7 a.m.
- Limiting the hours of outdoor cleaning equipment (like power washers) to match the hours set aside for lawn equipment: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends.
- Limiting pet noise: nothing audible from neighboring houses for more than five minutes during the day, or anytime at night if the barking (or other animal noise) is audible to neighborhoods with closed windows and doors closed.
The proposed changes would also double the existing penalties for breaking noise ordinances: from $50 to $100 for the first violation, $100 to $250 for the second violation, and $250 to $500 for the third violation.
However, the new regulations would keep several, long-standing exemptions, including aircraft noise which residents have long protested, as well as Metrorail trains and road work.
Any changes in Alexandria will require approval from the City Council before going into effect. The city is currently accepting comments about the proposed changes.
“We’re in the middle of a public outreach process,” said Department of Transportation & Environmental Services spokeswoman Sarah Godfrey. “Once we review all comments, we’ll address those raised before submitting a final revision to Council for consideration. We expect to go to Council early next year.”
Godfrey said the recommended increase in fines is based what other nearby jurisdictions impose.
“The current fines are outdated,” she told ALXnow. “We looked at the fine structures of our neighboring jurisdictions and worked to come up with comparable, reasonable amounts.”
Staff are also proposing to create a new noise institutional zoning category of noise regulations, to cover schools, public buildings, and places of worship that fall outside the city’s other, existing categories (residential, commercial, and industrial.) Properties that fall under this new category could allow a higher threshold for noise (65 decibels) than residential properties (55 decibels), but lower than industrial areas (70 decibels.)
Image via Flickr/Phil Roeder
ALXnow Launches Today — This is the first post on the first day of ALXnow. Our goal is to bring Alexandria timely, relevant and useful local news coverage that uncovers unreported stories and drives community conversations. We hope you like it.
About the Morning Notes — Morning Notes posts like this one will be published on most weekday mornings and will highlight notable social media posts, press releases and the reporting of other news outlets. Most posts will be shorter than this one — we’re catching up! Each Morning Notes post will also feature a photo from around town, often from our staff photographer, Jay Westcott. You can submit photos for possible publication too: email us at [email protected] or tag us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
All ACPS Schools Meet State Benchmark — “All schools within Alexandria City Public Schools are fully accredited for the 2019-20 academic year for the first time in 20 years. On Monday morning the Virginia Department of Education announced the results that all ACPS schools met the state benchmark for the first time since the accreditation system first began in 1999.” [ACPS]
Bank Manager Pleads Guilty to Fraud — “An Alexandria bank branch manager pleaded guilty Monday to stealing more than $500,000 from older customers after gaining their trust to personally handle their transactions. Fetehi Mohammed, a manager since 2015 at the Wells Fargo Bank branch near the intersection of Quaker Lane and King Street, reviewed which customers had enough money that his unauthorized withdrawals would not attract notice.” [Washington Post]
Proposed Shelter for Migrant Kids Nixed — “Plans for a facility to house unaccompanied migrant children in Northern Virginia have been scrapped after pushback from local leaders and community members. Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson tweeted an email he received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirming that the Office of Refugee Resettlement was no longer considering Northern Virginia as a potential site for an unaccompanied migrant children shelter.” [WTOP]
Bank Robbery Suspect Arrested — “Alexandria police have a subject is in custody for robbing an Alexandria bank. The robbery happened at the 300 block of South Van Dorn street at around 11:15 AM on Saturday. Alexandria police arrived on the scene and made an arrest.” [Twitter, WDVM]
Hank’s Pasta Bar Closes — “Hank’s Pasta Bar closed Wednesday after 3 years in business. The restaurant, at 600 Montgomery Street in Old Town North, closed to make room for a new Italian restaurant that will open later this year.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
Meeting Today About Proposed Noise Law Changes — “[Alexandria] is planning major revisions to its Noise Control Code, and it is asking the community to weigh in on proposed changes to the ordinance. Changes to the code, which was first adopted more than 55 years ago in 1963, include expanded wording in the animals section, which sets specific limits on barks, howls, bays, meows, squawks, quacks or other sounds between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.” [WTOP]
Joint Arlington and Alexandria Meeting Tonight — “Building on the two localities’ collaborative success in recruiting unprecedented new investments in National Landing, the Alexandria City Council and the Arlington County Board will hold a joint meeting on Tuesday, October 1, to discuss the development of a formal framework to continue working together on key policy issues that support inclusive growth.” [City of Alexandria]