NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Lots of cities have cracked down on noise after residents have sounded off about window-rattling music, unmuffled motorcycles or clamorous construction work.
This city is taking a different tack.
In a nod to the community's emerging night life and the hope of new development surrounding two proposed train stations, the city is raising the roof on noise in some areas.
Police, however, will continue to have the discretion to tell noisy neighbors to turn down their music or keep a barking dog inside the house regardless of decibel levels.
The city has had a blanket standard of 55 dba, equivalent to a dishwasher in the next room, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. The level has been 65 dba (heavy traffic) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
But in residential areas, the nighttime level will now be 60 dba (the sound you might hear in a large business office), and the daytime level will be 75 dba (equivalent to a vacuum cleaner), the City Council decided Monday.
In nonresidential areas, including the one at Precinct Line Road and Boulevard 26 where Anejo House of Tequila features bands on its patio three nights a week, the level is now 70 dba from midnight to 7 a.m. (similar to a hair dryer) and 80 dba (similar to a garbage disposal three feet away) the rest of the time.
The small increases in the scale can have a large effect. That's because the decibel scale is logarithmic. Each increase of 10 represents a noise 10 times louder.
But the decibel level will no longer be determined from the noisemaker's location but from the noise complainer's.
Tarrant County College, the Birdville school district and Fort Worth Christian School are exempt from the ordinance, city Public Safety Director Jimmy Perdue said. Having thousands of people at a football game requires some flexibility, he said.
"Most people who live in those areas understand," Perdue said.
Noise from gas drilling is covered by a separate ordinance.
A sophisticated plan
The new noise ordinance, approved on a unanimous vote, was prompted by a recognition that Tarrant County's third-largest city, at about 65,000 residents, is changing from a bedroom community. New restaurants offer live music outdoors.
The city also hopes to open two train stations in the Iron Horse and Smithfield neighborhoods if funding can be found, Mayor Oscar Trevino said. The stations would be part of the planned TEX Rail running from southwest Fort Worth through Grapevine and into Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
North Richland Hills officials believe that the stations will spin off areas of restaurants and shops after the rail line opens in 2014.
So a more sophisticated noise ordinance was needed, Perdue said.
Keeping people happy
Patti Hanson, managing partner for Big Barn Bar-B-Que, said she supports the new ordinance, calling it "fair for everybody." The 2-year-old restaurant off Davis Boulevard has live music Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays on its patio.
Hanson said she stands at Davis and Main Street with a decibel meter when a band warms up to ensure that the volume complies with the ordinance and to keep neighbors happy.
"We want them as customers," she said.
Perdue said the ordinance is primarily another tool to address the most common complaints -- loud parties or loud music from a neighbor. Typically, offenders comply with police requests to lower the volume, so no penalty is assessed. If people ignore the police, they can be cited. Violators will be fined up to $500.
Gene Trainor, 817-390-7419