BRANDON — Some in town see a noise ordinance as a case of the government overstepping its bounds, meanwhile others think not regulating decibels makes Brandon a hard place to live.
The Select Board hosted two public listening forums on March 20 and 22 to get people’s opinions on a potential noise ordinance. Board Chairman Seth Hopkins said Monday both were well attended despite being held online and that both sides, and those in between, were well-represented. The board’s next step is to meet with the town attorney and police chief.
As he explained at each forum, no ordinance has yet been drafted. The topic came up as the Planning Commission was researching the matter over the past several months, with the board deciding to steer the process, beginning with the gathering of public input. Hopkins said these listening forums aren’t required by state law to pass an ordinance, but the board is undertaking them anyway and plans to go above and beyond what’s required should it decide to move forward in drafting noise regulations.
“The board is working with an eye toward getting this done right rather than getting this done right now,” he said at the March 22 forum.
An ordinance that makes everyone happy may be a tall order, given the range of feelings expressed between the two forums.
“In my opinion, this is the first step of even more control,” said Larry Stevens at the March 22 forum. “People say, ‘oh, we’re not coming for your guns.’ No, but you want that first step in the door to say, ‘oh, we can regulate the use of your gun.’ And then the next step is we’re going to regulate the type of gun you own and the amount of guns you own.”
Several people said they use firearms on their property, as do their neighbors, and that differences can usually be worked out with conversation. Others said the neighbors they have issues with have no interest in talking them out.
Several of those who spoke in favor of an ordinance cited loud, repetitive gunfire as being one of the types of noise causing an issue. Loud music, vehicles, fireworks, and other sources of noise were also raised as being problems.
“I’m sorry that this hearing is focusing all around gunshots,” said MeiMei Brown at the March 20 forum. “A gunshot is a very startling noise, you don’t know it’s going to happen and then all of a sudden it’s, bang, bang, but I want everybody to think beyond just gunshots as a noise issue. It is loud parties, it’s barking dogs, it’s machinery that’s operating at too high a decibel because the mufflers aren’t in place or whatever, so I hope this conversation goes beyond gunshots, so please take into account anything that creates noise that can be harmful to people.”
Former Planning Commission Chairman Michael Shank said some of his neighbors have been using firearms in a way that interferes with his personal property rights. He said he keeps horses and has wanted to open a therapeutic riding center, but the gunfire startles the animals making such a practice unsafe. He said the government can, and has, regulated things like this, citing littering laws and speed limits as examples of balancing the freedoms of individuals against the freedoms of society as a whole.
Allie Breyer, who lives with Shank on High Pond Road, said the issue isn’t pre-planned events or music played at a reasonable volume.
“It comes down to this, people keep saying that you should expect this when you live in Vermont, it’s just what you get by living here, but this could be no further from the truth,” she said, adding that towns with noise ordinances tend to be doing well in terms of population and economics. “I don’t want to say that correlation equals causation, but let’s not pretend that you get what you deserve by living in Vermont and living rurally.”
She said if Brandon isn’t going to craft a noise ordinance, then it should stop advertising itself to people as a welcoming place.
The shooting isn’t as bad as it’s been portrayed, said Derek Gregorek, of High Pond Road. He said he enjoys recreational shooting and mostly uses a low caliber rifle, though sometimes larger when friends and family are over. He said this happens once a month at most.
“My point is, it’s not happening all the time as it’s being portrayed by others,” he said. “We moved up here to High Pond about 13 years ago so we can enjoy some more activities that we knew wouldn’t be very pertinent in town, i.e. shooting guns or riding ATVs on our property. We think the shooting-noise thing is being blown way out of proportion and we encourage somebody to take a close look at it and understand that it doesn’t happen all the time.”