AUGUSTA — Residents hope a new noise ordinance approved after months of heated debate will bring peace and quiet to their neighborhoods.

And business owners — particularly car dealers — hope to silence the complaints of their neighbors.

The new noise rules adopted by the Augusta City Council late Thursday night will limit the sound coming from outdoor speakers at businesses to a maximum of 60 decibels at their property lines. City officials say that’s about as loud as a normal face to face conversation.

An earlier version of the noise ordinance called for banning bullhorn-style speakers that several city car dealers use to reach employees, but councilors removed the ban following a narrow 5-4 vote that was decided by the mayor.

“I do hope to enjoy my yard this summer without having to hear the play-by-play from down the road,” said Laurie Ladd, who has lived at her Glenwood Street home, about 300 feet away from O’Connor Motors’ State Street sales lot, for 52 years. “I shouldn’t be hearing a conversation from 300 feet away. Maybe businesses could meet with their neighbors, say, once a year, and talk, see how things are going. A good neighbor makes a good customer.”

Car dealer owners objected to the proposed ban on the bullhorn-style speakers, saying they rely on them to reach their sales staff quickly in the high stakes, fast-paced drive to move cars off their lots. Neighbors have described the speakers as shrill and annoying.

Following three hours of debate, councilors removed the ban on bullhorn speakers as long as they don’t exceed the 60-decibel limit.

The eight city councilors were evenly split on the speaker ban and the issue was decided only by Mayor William Stokes’ tie-breaking vote to remove the ban from the new rules.

Voting in favor of eliminating the speaker ban were at-large councilor David Rollins, Michael Byron, Ward 1; Darek Grant, Ward 2; and Mark O’Brien, Ward 4. Voting in favor of the bullhorn ban were Patrick Paradis, Ward 3; and at-large councilors Cecil Munson, Jeffrey Bilodeau and Daniel Emery.

Randy Hutchins, owner of O’Connor Motor Group, said he is willing to meet with his neighbors, and even have them and city officials get together at his State Street lot with a decibel meter, so the volume of his outdoor speaker there is adjusted to their liking.

But he was not willing to have his dealerships part with the bullhorn-style speakers used at State Street and Riverside Drive.

“I’m in full support of a decibel level at the property lines,” Hutchins said. “Whatever the standard is, I’ll meet it. My disagreement is with banning the horn speakers. Replacing them does nothing for either side, nothing to help the neighbors or the business owner. Could someone explain to me what we accomplish if we, every business in the city of Augusta, went out and changed all our speakers over to something which could have a completely more devastating sound than what the horn speaker is supposedly doing?”

Before casting the deciding vote on the speaker ban issue, Stokes said the Planning Board’s proposal was well designed, “but I’m still not convinced the enemy is horn-type speakers.” The Planning Board recommended councilors ban bullhorn-style speakers in 4-3 vote.

“I’m reluctant to micro-manage a business to say you can’t have this particular type of speaker, even if it’s below the decibel level,” Stokes said.

Hutchins said he has already turned down the volume of his business’ outdoor speakers and plans other changes, including modifying the paging system at all his lots. He said pages meant for people who work inside the business, such as those in parts and service, won’t be broadcast outside at all.

Anne Thomas, who has lived on Newland Avenue near O’Connor’s Riverside Drive site for 11 years, said speakers there were brassy and shrill until they were turned down when the noise issue first arose late last year.

She hasn’t been bothered since, and said she’d be fine as long as volume levels don’t return to their previous levels.

“I can’t hear them now,” she said of the speakers. “It’s delightful.”

The new noise ordinance approved by councilors Thursday takes effect in about a month.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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