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Citizens sound off on noise

By Sherri Ellington Changes have been made to the pending agritourism special exception that will be added to the county zoning code. Noise issues were taken out and will be added to the county nuisance code, which provides for penalties. Commissioners are considering lowering the decibel level from 85 after hearing about complaints of Piedmont Green Power noise levels at 60 decibels. ‘We’ve still got some work to do on it,’ said commission chairman Jay Matthews during the first reading of the code. A public hearing was held May 21 at the county commission meeting. Zoning administrator Dan Gunter said the definition now defines agritourism as anything that brings paying customers to a farm, ranch or timberlands. The special exception, allowable in agricultural-residential areas only, must go before the board of appeals and commissioners. There will be public hearings in front of both and two readings before approval. Exceptions will be decided on a case-by-case basis with appropriate rules, such as vehicle arrival and departure times based on normal area traffic, applied to each. A rodeo at the county horse arena on Roberta Drive could not have arrivals at 3 p.m. as school is letting out, for example, because safety concerns would come into play. ’The code comes from a combination of those of other counties and the conservation section of the state law,’ said Gunter. ‘We specify that it’s a business, not just people coming in and walking around. After our workshop and specific questions posed to me by citizens we wanted to consider each of these separately.’ This means the setbacks and hours of operation could differ from site to site. ’A Boy Scout or Girl Scout campout could go on all night,’ he said. For annual events such as this, the special exemption must be applied for and received each time. As far as decibel levels to be switched over to the nuisance code, those also would vary in hours according to the event. That code is referred to in the new agritourism code, meaning the new law will not have to be changed each time a difference is determined to be acceptable. The owner would have to prove he or she was not in violation. ‘You shouldn’t have to leave your property because of a nuisance. I’m not talking about regular farm noises,’ said Matthews. ‘To me the noise is the biggest concern.’ County attorney Scott Mayfield said he would pull out and redraft an old noise code proposal that never came to a vote because the county decided a decibel meter was too expensive. ‘A zoning ordinance isn’t the place for a noise ordinance,’ Mayfield said. ‘The existing nuisance code doesn’t cover noise right now.’ Food and beverage rules ‘“ whether stands or restaurants ‘“ would fall under local, state and federal health codes. A valid business license must be held and in the case of equine events a state stable license must be held before a local license is issued. There were three comments during the public hearing: Preston Thompson listed definitions of decibel levels that started out as 60 decibels as the sound of two people talking with 85 being the threshold at which hearing damage can begin to occur and 120 the sound of a jet at an airport. Fireworks and amplified sound are much louder, he said. ‘The hollering I heard at 9:30 p.m. (during a garden wedding at a facility next door) was like Custer when he was being shot at,’ he said. ‘Then the cherry bombs and M-80s came out.’ Shirley White asked they be set lower, warning children’s hearing could be harmed. ‘It’s way too high. Everyone’s ears aren’t the same,’ White said. She suggested a tree or other sound and sight barrier be added to buffer requirements and the business ‘not be detrimental to the community.’ She noted venue traffic could sometimes take an hour or more to clear so ‘9 p.m. is just too late.’ Tonya Horton expressed concern about alcohol use at a venue, whether it sells it or is a bring your own operation. ’Many times the people killed in a drunk driving accident aren’t the drivers,’ she said. ‘We can tighten up this bill. You don’t need to have amplified sound to teach children how their food and beverages are made either. People need to be respectful of their neighbors.’ Julia Heidbrink, a former endurance racer, waited until the regular public comment section of the meeting so she could directly address Brutz English’s racetrack. ’I have 52 years experience in the horse industry, several of those in the racehorse industry,’ she said. ‘Training facilities are places where the horses come out of the gate and can walk or run until it figures out it’s a safe place.’ She recounted the speeds quarter horses, thoroughbreds and Arabians can run and the dangers to jockeys. ’Things can happen,’ she said. ‘I think the county is at risk. Small tracks are shut down quickly because something happens. It’s the most dangerous racing there is.’ She said two organizations in Georgia regulate horse racing, one of which is pushing for pari-mutuel betting. This would entail a change to the state constitution. ’He (English) needs safety standards, ambulance support, insurance and a veterinarian,’ she said. ‘Trainers have to have continual training and there are issues with drugging horses to make them run a little bit faster. It’s like DUI. Please think about what you’ve got out there. It’s an accident waiting to happen.’

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