August 02, 2006

Summer's Here, And So's the Noise

The roar of lawnmowers and the staccato beat of hammers have become as much a part of the sounds of summer as the hum of the cicadas. While the resulting din may be more jarring than the natural buzz of things, ordinances in Southampton and East Hampton towns allow construction and landscaping-related noise seven days a week.

In Southampton, such noise is permitted from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; in East Hampton, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. daily. Those charged with enforcing the codes say fines are rarely levied against violators. "We have a lot of noise complaints, but violations where we take people to court are pretty rare," said Steve Frano, the senior code enforcement officer for Southampton Town.

In order for someone to be taken to court under the Southampton ordinance, three affidavits must be signed by people affected by the noise, a standard that is rarely met, according to Frano. First and second time offenders can be levied with fines not exceeding $1000 and up to 15 days in jail. A third violation within 18 months can result in a fine of between $2500 and $10,000 and 15 days in jail. In reality, a warning and an educational talk are usually the stiffest penalties violators face. "You'd be surprised how many people don't know about these ordinances," Frano said.

Don Sharkey, the chief building inspector for East Hampton Town said the number of complaints rise during the summer months because some builders and workers ignore the rules and start earlier to avoid the heat of the day. Sharkey said a warning to violators is generally sufficient. "We'll tell the guys they can't work, and they pretty much listen," he explained.

"I can't recall anyone being issued a summons" for noise violations, he added.

Local officials say parties more than pruning raise the hackles of area residents. When complaints do come in, "it's more apt to be in connection to loud parties," said Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski. Raucous gatherings in private and commercial residences make up the majority of noise complaints in East Hampton as well, said town police chief Todd Sarris, who added there are only "sporadic complaints" about building and landscaping-related noise. In East Hampton Town, violators are fined between $50 and $500 for the first offense; second and third violations within an 18-month period are subject to fines of between $250 and $750 and between $500 and $1000, respectively.

Bill Pepe, a builder and the owner of Christdan Limited who does the majority of his work on the South Fork, described existing town ordinances as "quite reasonable" but was amenable to the idea of more limited hours on Sunday. "I don't think anyone should work on Sunday," he said. "But [the hours] should stay the same on Saturday."

Elizabeth Linker, who owns the landscaping firms Hampton Greenskeeper and Hedges and Gardens in East Hampton, was adamantly opposed to any weekend restrictions, saying such a move "would be very unfair." Landscapers have a very short season in which to make money and weekend restrictions would limit earnings, she said. "What am I going to do, not eat in December?" she asked.

But Ray Cadorette, a resident of Hampton Bays, said he thought noise from landscapers and builders should be limited on the weekends, especially on Sundays when, he suggested, work requiring noisy tools be restricted to between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. "If they want to paint on Sunday, that's fine," he said. "I just don't want to hear the roar of power tools. I hear that the rest of the week."

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