Noise gripes get commissioners' ear

Durham County residents might get some relief from construction racket

Staff WriterAugust 30, 2006 

— Liz Pullman hasn't needed an alarm clock for years. The incessant, crack-of-dawn beeping from dump trucks backing into construction sites near her Scott King Road home does the trick.

"We've decided [the trucks] only work in reverse because that's all we hear," Pullman said. "We pray for rain, so they can't work."

Pullman is one of several residents of a growing area of South Durham who have complained to county leaders over the years about construction noise disrupting their quality of life. Now, the county is listening.

Officials are considering a new ordinance regulating construction in an attempt to give their residents some peace and quiet. The specifics have not yet been worked out, but the county will probably simply adopt language identical or similar to a city ordinance that allows construction only between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m Monday through Saturday and prohibits it on Sundays. The ordinance does allow for early morning, late evening or Sunday construction if an emergency arises.

"I get calls from residents woken up at 5:30 in the morning," said Ellen Reckhow, chairwoman of the Durham Board of Commissioners. "We need some reasonable boundaries."

A county ordinance would only regulate construction outside the city limits and would hold no sway over road projects involving the state Department of Transportation.

Generally, home builders have not taken issue with the city's construction regulations, and outcry over a similar county ordinance will likely be minimal, said Nick Tennyson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties.

Still, Tennyson hopes enforcement of the ordinance will be reasonable.

"If you have an isolated work site where there's nobody around, it doesn't seem necessary to enforce every detail of the ordinance," he said.

The ordinance will put some responsibility on residents to contact builders themselves if they think the law is being broken, Reckhow said. She'd prefer that homeowners and builders attempt to settle the issue themselves before lodging complaints with the City/County Inspections Department.

The Inspections Department gets only a handful of complaints a year related to construction noise, and most problems are resolved quickly with a phone call to the builder, said Roy Brockwell, assistant director of the department. Often, a subcontractor who doesn't know about the regulations is the culprit, Brockwell said.

Staff writer Eric Ferreri can be reached at 956-2415 or eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com.

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