City Council considers off-road noise rule tweaks

Manager Jeff Griffith poses for a portrait on a motorcycle at Griffith Cycle on Dodds Avenue on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Griffith, whose family runs the business, voiced concerns at a recent city council meeting about a proposed off-road vehicle noise ordinance.

The Chattanooga City Council may make a few tweaks to a proposed off-road vehicle noise ordinance Tuesday evening.

Last week, the council voted 9-0 in favor of regulations which prohibit people from operating all-terrain vehicles, utility vehicles, dirt bikes and dune buggies if the they create more than 70 decibels of sound - similar to the noise made by a shower or dishwasher - on residential properties. Today they discussed the idea of also making the regulation a matter of how long someone exceeds the noise threshold.

"That's probably something wise to consider, just as to how long that decibel amount should be allowed before it becomes a nuisance," Deputy City Attorney Phillip Noblett said.

Other parts of Chattanooga's noise codes do the same, such as how long a dog can bark before the city considers it a nuisance violation.

Council Vice Chair Ken Smith voiced his support for adding language to the ordinance concerning a "sustained level of sound," but not necessarily changing the decibel limit, citing sound meter readings he picked up from his property line while his son rode a small dirt bike in the backyard last weekend.

"It was like a snap 70 [decibels] up and down as he would come back around or past me," Smith said.

Councilman Chip Henderson, who sponsored the original ordinance, said he just wants "a good piece of legislation" and was open to making an amendment.

"It's got to be something that's not subjective, it's got to be something that can reasonably be measured by your law enforcement folk who have to enforce that provision," Noblett said. "If you have a sustained time frame, say for a minute or 30 seconds in that regard, that would allow you to determine if [a violation has occurred]."

If the council makes a significant amendment to the ordinance, it will have to considered a first reading vote again, Noblett said. To pass an ordinance, the council must approve it on two separate readings. If the council does not make changes to the ordinance, tonight's scheduled vote will close the matter, at least from the standpoint of legislative procedure.

A number of off-road businesses and enthusiasts have pushed back against the ordinance, alleging it will essentially outlaw off-road vehicles in Chattanooga, without some changes.

Last week, Jeff Griffith, whose family runs Griffith Cycles, told the council last the noise level was unrealistic.

"The 70-decibel limit is extremely low," Griffith said. "I might suggest you have a decibel limit that is more reasonable, as no [off-road vehicle] meets that 70-decibel mark. There are very, very quiet machines that do not meet 70 decibels."

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@times Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.