Seattle Courant

Seattle City Council Approves Changes to Noise Ordinance

By Corey Kahler
March 4, 2009 03:03PM

Aside from minor restructuring of rules regarding civil and criminal fines for noise violators and a modernization of sound level measuring, the central point of contention among council members and community activists, such as the Quiet Alliance, was the major public projects construction variance, which allows for long-term higher than allowable noise levels for large multi-year civic projects such as replacing the Alaska Way Viaduct and Sound Transit's light rail.

"Current rules do not give the community the ability to know how big a project is," Clark said. "We have not had a structure to consider" these types of large projects and the noise variances that will be necessary to complete them on time and within budget.

As it stands under current law, construction projects can request variances for increased noise under a variety of circumstances, but these permits only last for fourteen days. For lengthy projects, contractors are required to string together repeated requests, each reviewed by the city.

Councilmember Nick Licata presented an amendment to create an annual review of noise variances and to modify the allowable noise based on changing conditions such as increased residencies or businesses.

"This is public process run amok," scoffed Councilmember Jan Drago, looking over Licata's hand-written flow-chart of the proposed legal process, which was nearly three times in physical size of a similar diagram showing current rules.

Council President Richard Conlin defended Licata's visual aid, "To represent what we have now," he said you'd need "26 pages" of flow charts.

The discussion intensified when Sound Transit attorney Steve Sheehy and Licata exchanged words and the possibility of further deliberation was floated.

Sheehy said that Sound Transit did not support Licata's annual noise variance review since "for most land use permits - there is one appeal. Every year conditions might change. I can't calculate what the impact will be."

"What we have is a one-sided big gun here," Licata described Sheehy. "This is why I objected to you speaking in the first place."

While voting on Licata's amendment the council was interrupted when a member of the audience requested public testimony on the matter. The man repeated his request as Conlin attempted to close the voting and the person was threatened with removal. The amendment did not pass.

And despite the delays and heated debate, the final legislation was approved unanimously .

"It's not perfect. I think we could probably hold onto for three more years and it still wouldn't be perfect," Councilmember Jean Godden said, "but major public projects mean jobs, progress, and infrastructure especially in a tough economic time."