CONWAY — Selectmen this spring will be proposing a noise ordinance based on the one being used by the town of Durham.
A committee created last year to make recommendations to the town of Conway came up with five proposed warrant articles including the noise ordinance.
Noise ordinance violations could be counted against a short-term rental operator's license. Enforcement of the regulations would be paid for through license fees.
However, the noise ordinance would regulate far more than just rentals. It would also address unnecessary noises from vehicles, and power tools and construction vehicles during late at night and early in the morning.
Conway officials modeled their proposed ordinance after Durham's as the two towns seem to have similar issues with party houses. Durham hosts the University of New Hampshire and Conway has a relatively large number of short-term rentals, some of which disturb their neighbors.
The Sun spoke to Durham Police Chief Rene Kelley to see how their noise ordinance has been working out.
Kelley said he's been with Durham Police for 34 years and became chief in June. Durham has had a noise ordinance the entire time of his tenure, though it has been changed over the years.
Kelley said most of the complaints in Durham are about loud music and parties. He their ordinance is different from the state disorderly conduct law. With disorderly conduct, an officer has to wait until there is a complaint from the member of the public to react. With the ordinance, an officer can issue a summons based on his or her own observation.
In the fall, the Durham police focus on educating people about the ordinance by issuing warnings. A few weeks later, they start issuing summonses; the guilty parties can be fined as much as $1,000.
"I think the most important thing for the town and the Conway PD is to be consistent and address it early," said Kelley. "What you're looking for is voluntary compliance."
Kelley said his daughter, Emily Payne, lives in Conway and works at the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School, so he's familiar with our area. He added that the two towns are alike in many regards, in that it's a mix of full-time residents and visitors who come to have a good time.
In Durham's case, it's students who want to party. "Students and working people are on opposite schedules, right?" said Kelley. "So a working person and their kids are ready to go to bed, the students are getting ready to party."
The town of Durham has addressed this with a disorderly house ordinance.
"As the police chief, if I have property in town that is problematic, I can have the owner come and meet with me to come up with ways to kind of put a stop to the noise," said Kelley. "And if they don't want to meet with me or they're not cooperative, we can take them to court and the court can issue a fine to the property owner."
The Sun asked Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes why Conway couldn't do a disorderly house ordinance. Holmes replied, that he and planner Tom Irving sought to do just that but appeared that towns like Conway with a selectmen form of government didn't have the authority.
Durham, meanwhile, has a town council. Holmes thought that difference might be why Durham felt it could have a disorderly house ordinance.
Conway has twice asked the state Legislature to grant that authority but was unsuccessful both times.
Kelley reviewed Conway's proposed ordinance and offered some advice, noting that officers may not necessarily issue a summons.
"A lot depends upon how cooperative the people are. But 3 a.m. in the morning, and they've got a stereo speaker blasting out the window ... that is not reasonable, and I would expect our officers to issue a summons for something that blatant," he said.
If Conway's ordinance passes, Kelley recommended that Conway "have a dialogue" with property owners and tell them to make sure their guests know what the rules are.
Years ago, Durham officers used to investigate noise complaints by using a decibel meter. "That was so burdensome," said Kelley, adding the batteries would die in the cold or wind and prevent accurate readings. "We updated the ordinance and we took that out. Now it's just the officer's observations that are required."
The Sun asked Kelley if the noise ordinance hampered businesses who do heavy work early in the morning, and he said he didn't think so. One incident they had was that a waste disposal company was picking up trash at 4 a.m. and making a lot of noise. Police called the waste company and it addressed the noise issues.
"Nobody was purposely trying to violate the ordinance," said Kelley. "They stopped and made the resident who had called us happy."