Despite a noise bylaw that was approved after extensive consultation and debate six years ago, Niagara-on-the-Lake still has difficulty handling the large number of complaints from neighbours of outdoor events, town councillors heard Monday evening.
And those who organize events have problems meeting the requirements of the bylaw and dealing with angry residents, they were told.
Coun. Betty Disero said she spoke to staff about how to solve the complicated problem after an increasing number of complaints from residents last season, and a meeting to discuss outdoor event permits which drew a crowd of people with noise concerns.
She was advised to make a motion at council asking for a review and report to help give bylaw staff the tools they need to deal with complaints.
She tried at Monday's council meeting with a motion asking staff to review the bylaw and report on how noise from outdoor events could be regulated and enforced, but met some resistance.
Councillors hesitated to open a can of worms, some of them recalling the difficulties of getting the bylaw written and approved in 2012 and hesitating to put the extra work on staff who already have a full plate.
Lord Mayor Pat Darte explained there are issues on both sides — the special event organizers who try to work within the framework of the bylaw and the neighbours who are disturbed by the noise — and pointed out improvements in technology since the bylaw was written, now available at little cost and easily accessible, could help quantify the problem and provide solutions.
Grape grower Ed Werner, with two Lakeshore wineries as neighbours, told council he was sure special occasion permits, which allow wineries 24 events a year, had not been designed with the intent of putting residents such as himself in the position of having 48 noisy events nearby each season.
He spoke of sitting down with winery representatives and reaching a compromise, and asked for an appropriate decibel limit — he suggested 45 — to be included in the bylaw to simplify enforcement.
Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyards in St. Davids said he agreed with working out a solution with neighbours, but said that isn't always possible — some residents repeatedly complain even though he's careful to adhere to the terms of the bylaw, which puts him in the difficult position of enforcer with those who are holding their event at his winery.
Coun. Jamie King, although he said he was sensitive to the issues Disero was trying to address, had problems with her motion, especially as the busy season for wineries and special events is about to begin.
“When it comes to the rights of our wineries and their ability to run events, there are business rights that need to be protected,” King said.
“I fear the discussion that will emanate from this is a very significant undertaking. I know we're going to have every winery in town lining up to speak to the report and any recommendations related to it.”
At this point in council's term and the other business at hand, he said, “I think we need to take great care.”
“A noise bylaw takes a lot of effort and work and time and energy,” agreed Coun. Maria Bau-Coote.
“I'm not against trying to figure it out but it's not something we can do overnight.”
Disero said she didn't want to cause a “kerfuffle” and agreed that if some minor adjustments could be made within the existing bylaw to help with enforcement, she'd be content to put off a full review until the next council term.
When planning director Craig Larmour said the new town bylaw supervisor has some suggestions about how other municipalities handle noise complaints that might help, and he was looking for some direction from council to make some changes, Disero thanked him for finding a solution to her dilemma by helping to get through the summer with some additional tools for bylaw officers, and her motion carried.