Fort Worth City Council sets decibel standards for noise violations

FORT WORTH -- The City Council approved a noise ordinance Tuesday that sets uniform definitions of violations.

In a 7-0 vote, the council approved the changes to the zoning ordinance, which lays out clear-cut decibel standards. Previously, the ordinance required an individual to swear out a complaint to determine that a noise violation had occurred.

The vote was delayed last month at the request of an attorney for Martin Sprocket and Gear, 3600 McCart Ave., who wrote a letter to city officials expressing concerns that the new rules could negatively affect the company.

But the concerns were addressed by excluding industrial-zoned districts next to residential areas. Industrial noise would still be subject to an unreasonable-noise complaint by a resident, as the previous ordinance allowed.

One speaker also asked why the city wasn't doing anything to curtail noise from a railroad yard along Eighth Avenue near the Ryan Place neighborhood.

Councilman Joel Burns said Fort Worth cannot restrict railroad noise because it falls under federal regulations. Those rules also extend to noise from trucks loading and off-loading. Burns said he is trying to meet with railroad officials to address the issue.

Another speaker said the noise ordinance is unworkable because street noise and other sounds can often reach the new decibel thresholds.

In response, Councilman Danny Scarth said that the ambient noise level is the baseline for any sound reading and that police officers will be trained to use the decibel meters. He also noted that that the decibel reading would be taken from the business or residence's property line.

The new limits in the central business district, Trinity Uptown and West Seventh Village are 80 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights. The limit is 70 decibels at night.

For areas zoned nonresidential/mixed-use, the limit is 80 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, and 70 decibels at night.

Residential areas are subject to stricter rules: 70 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 60 decibels at night.

Police have said they will try to get voluntary compliance before taking a reading, but if the noise persists, they can use a noise meter at the property line to determine a violation.

For barking dogs and crowing roosters, 10 minutes of continuous noise constitutes a violation.

The revised ordinance doesn't deal with noise from gas well operations because that is covered in the gas drilling ordinance.

In 2011, 249 citations for noise violations were issued. Of those, 152 were from private residences, which could have ranged from music to vehicles to animals, police said.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna