Two weeks after a scheduled public hearing on a proposed noise ordinance in the Town of Saugerties, the comments at which were largely positive, over 100 residents filed into a regularly scheduled town board meeting on May 1 to question the wording of the law and whether a noise ordinance would benefit the majority of the community. Although the initial April 19 hearing was publicized in local media, many at the meeting called on public officials to notify residents online as well.
“This law is designed to go against your neighbors — this is what this law is all about,” said Saugerties Conservative Party Chair George Heidcamp at the meeting, touting his previous experience as a police officer and insisting that the majority of the issues that spurred the writing of the law could be handled by police with disorderly conduct charges.
Some speakers said they feared the law would threaten their regular home landscaping work, though the proposal allows for the use of domestic power tools (including lawn & garden tools) between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., seven days a week. Construction work, on the other hand, would not be permitted on Sundays and holidays.
“In my last dying breath, I’d love to organize on a Sunday a lawnmower invasion or a tractor invasion coming through town on the busiest weekend and bring 5,000 lawnmowers,” said resident Bob Lippman. “Maybe those people that read about Saugerties in The New York Times will decide that maybe they don’t want to live in this section of the Hudson Valley.”
Many speakers bemoaned that due to their work schedules, they could not help but do yard work on Sundays; others said local contractors and construction workers often needed to work on weekends when weather conditions prohibit operations on weekdays.
“If there is rain during the week, we need to work on the weekend,” said contractor Kevin Carpenter. “A lot of people work six days a week, some work seven, some own multiple properties. When are you supposed to do your yard work, when are you supposed to cut your trees, when are you supposed to pick up brush.”
The proposed law has no provisions about firearm usage; however, many speakers, including the president of the Saugerties Fish and Game Club, worried that their usage would be limited should the ordinance pass.
“Make a strong consideration to put an exemption in for game clubs. Like us, [we’ve been here for] a 120 years, we were here first,” said Joseph Till. “The police department uses our club to do their required mandating state trainings. We let them do it for free because we’re community minded. If we can’t shoot, you’re going to have to pay thousands and thousands for them to do it somewhere else.”
Locally-practicing attorney Erica Guerin, who said she had previously served as counsel for the county legislature and for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, joked that she is “thinking about expanding [her] practice to protect people against this [law],” and pointed out what she said were numerous pitfalls in its wording.
“There are definitions in this ordinance that are not even addressed at all in the body of the law itself — there is reference to sound source which is not referenced at all,” she noted. “One of the things I’m concerned about is that you have burglar alarms noted in Section 3 … that authorizes the police department to disconnect the alarm. That opens up the town to legal action. If there is a fire or a break-in, we’ll be on the hook and subject ourselves to further lawsuits … In the definitions of ‘emergency vehicles’ it does not allow for a lot of our volunteer firemen … to use alarms [while driving by] institutions – this means that emergency vehicles are going to have to turn off their alarms when they go by the school, the church or the court.”
Many residents noted that laws prohibiting loudspeakers would affect local institutions like Grant D. Morse Elementary School, whose morning announcements can be heard in residential areas in Blue Mountain each morning.
“I think it’s funny,” said Guerin. “I get to hear the pledge, it’s just a part of living in Blue Mountain.”
Resident Gaetana Ciarlante noted that the provisions for loudspeakers in the law could infringe on locals’ rights to gather and protest publicly.
“I have a loudspeaker and I have been known to … organize rallies at times,” she said. “I don’t think I should have to be prohibited … from using that because I think that infringes on the right to assemble.”
Many speakers said they’re concerned local police would be overburdened by the enforcing the ordinance.
“If this law gets passed and someone is spiteful and there is no quantitative way to measure my sound … I could get fined, and every possibly jail time which is excessive to me,” said resident Wayne Mitchell, who said that he was a musician. “We have an opioid crisis that isn’t really being controlled … I would imagine that the legal entity of Saugerties would be more prone to spending their time on that and the real crimes that are taking place where we as adults can take the time to work out our noise issues with each other.”
Others requested that should the law pass, a decibel limit should be set; currently, rather than using a decibel reader, enforcement of the law would be determined by whether an officer feels that the reported noise is “unusually loud … [or] annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of a reasonable person of normal sensibilities, or which causes injury to animal life or damage to property or business.”
Above all, almost every speaker asserted that noise problems should be settled between neighbors, without police involvement.
“When we arrived in Saugerties, the first thing we see is ‘Welcome to Friendly Saugerties,’” said resident Keith Hughes. “Last year, my dad, 82 years old now, crippled. He has an emu running around his house, peacocks, over 130 chickens and cocks running around the house and we call up the town of Saugerties and we call up the police department and guess what? There’s nothing we can do. There’s no ordinance against the cows, the donkeys, the emus. There’s no ordinance against this. Yet, if my father went outside, put his cane in the air and yelled, ‘Shut those darn animals up’ he’d get a ticket. I ask for one thing. Could you guys do me a big favor? The sign on 9W that says ‘Welcome to Friendly Saugerties,’ could you take it down? Because there is nothing friendly about Saugerties anymore.”