The West Tisbury select board took a laissez faire stance on a noise restriction idea presented to them during a meeting on Wednesday, August 10.
“If the board is in favor of this, the next step would be at whatever town meeting we have next to create a bylaw to present to the voters,” West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said. “It would be a general bylaw, not a zoning bylaw.”
Rosenbaum began introducing himself as having “over 40 years of experience in the design and construction industry.” He is a licensed engineer, and has a Massachusetts unrestricted construction supervisory license.
“I’ve been responsible for more construction noise than anyone at this meeting times a hundred,” Rosenbaum said. “What I have noticed — I live on Great Plains Road, about a mile down across from Greenlands, [a] fairly dense neighborhood for West Tisbury — is just the increase in summer and holiday work by contractors and landscapers.”
As an “avid cyclist” who also paddles on the Great Ponds, Rosenbaum noticed the noise increase all over the Island. “I’ve only been here 12 years, but the increase in work on Sundays and holidays seems pretty noticeable to me,” he said.
Rosenbaum presented this noise restriction idea to the West Tisbury planning board in July, and he said there was a general agreement that there was an increase in “unrestricted noise” during the meeting. He continued that much of this noisy work is being done when the property owners are not around, so year-round residents take “the brunt of it.” Rosenbaum told the select board there are landscaping trucks in his neighborhood on Sundays at houses where he knows the owners are not present.
“It feels to me like there has been a line that’s been crossed in terms of when people are considering their neighbors,” Rosenbaum said. “We gutted our house and renovated it in 2013. We ran around the neighborhood and talked to everybody ahead of time. We told them what we were doing, and we said, ‘Call us if we’re bothering you.’ I think that’s also gone by the by. It just doesn’t happen anymore here.”
Hearing a backup beeper “in an abutting property all day on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend” was the catalyst for Rosenbaum’s noise restriction quest. Rosenbaum said he used an app on his iPad to catch how loud the beeping was from the deck of his house, which he said was several hundred feet away from the property line, and it showed the sound at 60 decibels. Rosenbaum said the zoning ordinance restricts personal wireless service facilities’ sounds to 50 decibels at the property line.
Rosenbaum said if he were to propose a bylaw, it would consist of “no exterior construction and landscaping on Sundays and holidays, with a homeowner exemption,” “no offroad equipment running with the backup beepers,” and “set a limit at property lines on sound levels so that we have something enforceable and not subjective.”
“I’m not trying to prevent people from mowing their lawns or anything like that. I’m trying to prevent the incessant construction and landscaping work that is seven days a week in our town,” Rosenbaum said.
After Rosenbaum presented his case, the select board took time to ask questions and make comments regarding the idea.
Select board member Skipper Manter said the issue is noise, but the subjectivity would still remain. Rosenbaum said it is based on the intensity of the noise, such as the homeowner mowing the lawn versus contractors coming in with more equipment. However, Manter said it could be difficult to differentiate, since someone getting work done on their property, including lawn mowing, could be receiving help from neighbors. Manter also pointed out the question of who would enforce this noise restriction. He does not think the role should fall on the police department.
“It’s challenging as it is, it’s certainly broadly written without specific ways to decide whether it was just two neighbors who don’t get along, or whether or not there was an actual noise issue here,” Manter said.
Select board member Jessica Miller agreed with Rosenbaum that there is a problem in West Tisbury that there is a “constant” stream of noise from construction and landscaping. However, she also agrees with Manter about the difficulty of enforcing this restriction.
“My neighbor has a Bobcat, and Sunday is when he can use his Bobcat to work on his property,” Miller said, referring to Rosenbaum’s homeowner exemption part of the idea. Miller expressed interest in learning more about the “quantitative way of measuring sound.” A possible enforcement body Miller suggested was the homeowners associations, rather than have the police responding to every single noise complaint, which would be a “waste of resources.”
Rosenbaum later said there are multiple homeowner associations that manage batches of properties in close proximity to one another.
“The neighbor with the backup was not in my homeowners’ association, even though they’re an abutter,” he said. “In theory, that’s a nice idea, but in practice, it’s a bunch of different homeowner associations, and some [properties] may not be incorporated.”
Rand said if Rosenbaum’s idea was to pass as a town bylaw, it would fall under the police department’s list of responsibilities. But she expressed concern that this could be “weaponized” during “neighbor-on-neighbor” disputes.
“You get neighbor-on-neighbor issues on the regular,” Rand said. “I worry in some aspect that there will be a number of calls for enforcement for individuals who are either professionals who happen to be working on their yard with their professional equipment on a Sunday with one of their buddies, or someone has a landscaper who is not a landscaper.”
Select board chair Cynthia Mitchell told Rosenbaum that while the board will be hands-off when it comes to drafting a bylaw for this idea, he can work toward getting the idea in front of voters for the next town meeting. Mitchell said Rosenbaum can receive guidance from Rand for this, on such matters as getting signatures from voters.
In other business, the board voted 2-0 to use funds from the compensated absences reserve to pay up to $38,585.60 for accrued liabilities, compensated absences, and unused vacation time and sick leave to Manter, who recently retired from the West Tisbury Police Department. Manter abstained from voting.
The board unanimously approved the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair’s request for an entertainment license and a license to operate on a Sunday from Thursday, August 18, to Sunday, August 21.
The board unanimously approved Rand to sign a contract with ACG based on the recommendation from the Howes House feasibility study committee. Manter disclosed he is a member of the committee. ACG will act as the owner’s project manager for Howes House, and the town originally entered into contract negotiations with the company in July.