AUGUSTA — The city’s biggest car dealers are making more noise about proposed rules that aim to ban a bullhorn style of speakers.

Their complaints come even after the Planning Board toned down the proposed ordinance, which had previously sought to ban outdoor speakers from most city businesses. Local auto dealers complained and board members agreed to remove the prohibitions — except for the horn speakers used at ballfields and some car dealerships.

Randy Hutchins, owner of O’Connor Motors, which has multiple sales lots in Augusta, told city councilors Thursday that he’s fine with most of the proposed ordinance, which limits noise coming from most commercial operations in Augusta to 60 decibels, as measured at their property lines.

But he said the ban on horn-type speakers, which O’Connor uses, is unfair.

“Horn speakers, that is the issue, and the reason I can’t support the ordinance the way it is,” Hutchins said. “It’s a noise ordinance, but somewhere in this process it turned into a speaker ordinance. The question I have is, what are they supposed to be replaced with? What’s the standard?”

Mayor William Stokes responded that horn speakers would need to be replaced “with any type of speaker other than horn speakers.”

Local car dealers have previously said it would be too costly, and disruptive, for them to switch from their speaker systems to more modern technology such as cell phones or walkie talkies for communication. They say the speaker systems are crucial for reaching salesmen on their expansive sales lots.

Matt Nazar, deputy development director, said a speaker expert testified during a Planning Board hearing that horn speakers, while effective at being heard above other sounds, can seem especially shrill to many listeners. He said the ban on horn speakers split the Planning Board, with members voting 4-3 to narrowly recommend the ban.

Steve Shuman, vice president and general manager of Charlie’s Motor Mall, said the multi-brand dealership would be willing to change speakers, but he questioned whether eliminating all horn speakers would make much of a difference. He spoke in favor of the 60-decibel limit at property lines.

“We’re willing to work with our neighbors and the community, but I do question whether it is really going to take the shrillness away,” Shuman said.

Last year, several neighbors of both Charlie’s and O’Connor auto dealerships complained that noise coming from the loudspeakers was so loud they could not leave their windows open or enjoy their backyards.

In response, both dealerships turned down the volume and made other adjustments to their speaker systems. Nieghbors said the changes seemed to fix the problem.

However, councilor Cecil Munson and Nazar said they both recently received a complaint that O’Connor’s State Street lot was again bothering at least one neighbor, who complained to the city that the noise seemed to be louder.

Hutchins, however, said the volume is the same now as it was back when it was first turned down.

Nazar confirmed that decibel readings taken on the property line around the O’Connor State Street lot were roughly within the 60-decibel proposed new limit, both before and after the neighbor complained.

Munson said he believes the neighbor was hearing sounds from O’Connor far greater than 60 decibels at the property line, which Nazar said is similar to the sound of a normal conversation.

Councilor David Rollins said it seemed most of the noise issues between car dealers and their neighbors have been addressed, and he criticized the Planning Board recommendation to ban horn speakers.

“Why do we have to ban all horn-type of speakers if you only have a problem at one site?” he said. “We’re going in carte blanche and going to cause a lot of people who don’t have a problem to incur a cost.”

Nazar said the proposed ordinance includes a process for people and businesses to request a waiver to the horn speaker ban. For example, he said the waiver could allow that type of speaker to continue to be used at ballfields.

Mike Friel, a neighbor of the State Street O’Connor lot, said he is in favor of the 60-decibel limit because it is measurable. He urged councilors to also make sure the new noise ordinance is enforceable.

The proposed noise rules are expected to be the subject of public debate at the next council Thursday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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