Arlington government officials have added new tools in an effort to address nighttime noise violations from restaurants and bars.
The new policy is designed to target “the ones who consistently refuse to comply” in resolving noise complaints, County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac told County Board members on Oct. 22.
The new rules, crafted with care to withstand legal challenge, would allow police to determine if noise levels are excessive without the use of a decibel-level reader. Violators could be slapped with $250 fines for the first incident, $500 fines for subsequent ones.
The new policy is “a tool that hopefully will be used rarely, but is available,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said.
Residents can call the police department’s non-emergency number – (703) 558-2222 – to report noisy nighttime conditions in commercial establishments. Responding officers will then make a determination if a violation is occurring.
“If a person feels affected, they should call,” Schwartz said.
The new arrangement supersedes the previous enforcement apparatus, which was based on a 2014 noise ordinance passed by the County Board. Not a single time over the past five years has a business received a civil or criminal citation under the policy, said Ben Akin, an ombudsman with the county government.
“It’s actually a measure of our success,” Akin said, saying the “soft-touch” approach allowed businesses to rectify problems of their own accord.
“We want to continue that approach – it sends the right signal to the community,” he said.
If a noise situation gets out of hand, county officials have a number of options to ratchet up the pressure. They could ask a judge to order compliance – “that would give us much greater teeth for enforcement,” MacIsaac said – and could hold up extension of use permits for venues that have a history of non-compliance.