After extensive work with stakeholders and community members, the Niagara-on-the-Lake town council has asked staff to review some policies and gather input from the public to see where improvements can be made to the current noise bylaw.
The bylaw was written and approved in 2012, but not without lengthy debate amongst councillors and the public.
Since then, both residents and business owners have asked for changes to the bylaw, but the previous council put off an extensive review, given the amount of discussion that went into the original, and the extra work it would have put on staff to have another look at it.
Workload continues to be an issue, interim CAO Sheldon Randall told councillors. He said if there is anything new to add to the lists of issues staff is already looking at, council will have to prioritize, because at this point, he said, “everything seems to be a priority. We’re struggling to complete what’s on the list now.”
In recent months, councillors have met with stakeholders and members of the community regarding on-going concerns of noise, and presented their findings to council Monday at the extension of last week’s council meeting.
They asked staff to investigate and gather more input from the public, and also review the special events policy, which allows wineries to hold 24 outdoor events a year. They also asked for a policy that includes penalties.
Councillors Erwin Wiens and Clare Cameron, who led the review, asked that staff look at the noise emitted from events, and consider adding an 85/20 decibel level — the current bylaw doesn’t include a noise level. That number was taken for the Toronto bylaw, and is just a starting point for staff, councillors were told.
It was suggested staff consider a permit application fee for special events to help fund enforcement of the bylaw.
Since short-term rentals are also part of the noise problem, with out-of-town visitors partying and disturbing neighbours, the committee suggested applications for short-term rentals should include local contact information available to the public, and that the Town should be able to penalize owners for noise violations.
Staff could also look at increases in annual short-term licence fees and penalties for those operating without a licence, to help fund increased enforcement, the report said.
Coun. Stuart McCormack suggested also asking staff to provide information about how many legal proceedings have resulted from noise violations in the last 10 years, and if there were any fines levied for violations.
He said he would like to know to what extent the previous bylaw was enforced, before deciding on changes.
Councillors agreed with that request, but not to his second suggestion, to ask staff to “plot a path forward on the use of bird bangers” — the cannon-like devices farmers use to protect grapes from birds — and possible alternatives. He suggested involving stakeholders, experts, staff, and residents in the discussion.
Coun. Erwin Wiens disagreed, saying noise related to agricultural practices is legislated by the Province. “We’d be muddying the waters very significantly if we get into that issue now,” he said.
Cameron was also opposed to opening the discussion to include bird bangers, saying the committee’s mandate did not include looking at agricultural practices.
The amendment to include bird bangers in the noise review suggested by McCormack failed by a six to three vote.
Cameron stressed the need to get the process underway without delay.