As summer brings with it longer nights and an abundance of outdoor activities, Medford Township has begun planning for excessive noise complaints. To help alleviate a number of these noise-related grievances, the township has proposed that an updated noise ordinance be reviewed to replace the existing ordinance adopted in 1981.
The need for such an ordinance has been prompted largely by a high volume of local complaints during the 2015 JCC Camps at Medford on Tuckerton Road. Although town council members chose not to push for the final approval of the state model ordinance at their June 8 meeting, many concerns regarding the specific details behind its possible adoption were discussed.
While excessive noise throughout the township is a concern of both residents and council members, the adoption of the state model will bring with it a more stringent decibel-based system for noise control. The state model is so strict that failure to comply with the ordinance can result in a maximum fine of $2,000, whereas Medford currently enforces a maximum fine of $500 for the same offense.
“The state does allow you to have more stringent requirements, but you can’t have less stringent requirements. So, you can’t change the decibel base of the model ordinance but you can add more strict standards,” Medford Township Attorney Timothy Prime explained to the council members. “Looking at the township’s existing ordinance, really there were no standards.”
Despite the township not having specific decibel requirements, based on New Jersey law, the state model is already the statute that governs the township law, and municipalities cannot adopt any version that is inconsistent with it, a concept known as preemption. Once the state legislates on the issue, municipalities are no longer allowed to make any changes that are inconsistent. Additionally, by adopting the formal state model, changes can still be proposed but are then subject to state approval.
“The state statute says that any ordinance documented by a municipality has to be approved by the state,” Mayor Jeffrey Beenstock said. “Our ordinance, one, is not consistent with the model ordinance in the state statute, and two, it was never approved by the state. So technically it’s there on the books but we can’t enforce it, it’s not legal.”
Regarding the state model, top concerns among town council members included how occupations such as landscaping may be affected by hours of the noise ordinance’s time restrictions and whether to permit construction on Sundays. Congruent with the current Medford noise ordinance that prohibits construction work on Sundays, many of the council members said they were still not in favor of construction on this day. However, the members also agreed residents should be able to complete noncommercial construction projects on Sundays — causing potential confusion on what should be accepted.
This gap in understanding may become burdensome to township residents, but moreso it could become especially problematic for law enforcement officers aiming to enact these laws, officials said. Yet, Police Chief Richard Meder explained that before such an ordinance could become reality, specifics including what is enforceable by law enforcement versus what is enforceable by the county noise officer must be worked out with solicitors.
“We have to look into whether we’re going to train some of our officers through the state, so there’s still a lot on the enforcement end that we have to work out,” Meder said. “More often than not, when we get noise complaints, we can go out and we can mediate the situation where it doesn’t necessarily require any enforcement action.”
The town council plans to include a proposed ordinance for introduction and first reading at its next meeting on June 21. If introduced as planned, a second reading for adoption and a public hearing would take place during the July 5 meeting. If changes were to be made to the model ordinance, then the proposal would have to be submitted to the state Department of Community Affairs for approval, lengthening the process.