A controversial new noise ordinance passed Tuesday by a 4-3 vote in its second reading before the Town Council.
The new rules remove an exception made in 2011 at the request of Prestonwood Country Club, whose golf course straddles the Cary-Morrisville border. Under that exemption, the course’s maintenance crews were allowed to begin mowing and blowing putting greens as early as 6 a.m., although other maintenance was restricted before 7 a.m. Now, all course maintenance can’t begin before 7 a.m., seven days a week.
Changes to town ordinances require either a 5-2 supermajority on the first vote or consecutive simple majorities to pass. The first vote passed by the same 4-3 margin the council’s July 26 meeting, requiring a second vote Aug. 9.
Tuesday, the council added one change to the motion made at the July 26 meeting: a 90-day stay of enforcement to allow the course time to adjust to the new policy and complete its busiest season under current practices.
Those for and against removing the exception remained the same as the July 26 vote. Councilman Satish Garimella, Mayor pro tem Steve Rao, Schlink and Stohlman voted to remove the exemption. Council members TJ Cawley, Liz Johnson and Vicki Scroggins-Johnson voted in favor of keeping it.
Club managers have said the extra hour is crucial for preparing the course to the standards that give it and the homes that surround the course their value. Matt Massei, the club’s general manager, has said that the course’s coveted 7:30 a.m. tee times will be in jeopardy if the club is not allowed to begin work on the course early enough.
This most recent effort to remove the exemption has been led by Prestonwood resident Bob Butler, who has said the club’s maintenance practices have become increasingly invasive and that the equipment has become louder over the years. Butler was involved in unsuccessful efforts last year to change Cary’s noise ordinance to restrict maintenance times on its side of the course.
He, as well as Mayor Mark Stohlman and Councilman Michael Schlink, have said other residents hoping for a quieter course have emailed them but asked that their names not be revealed because they fear retribution from the club and other residents.
Massei and the club’s supporters have denied the claims.
After the July 26 meeting, town staff prepared a 178-page briefing packet on the matter. Their report proposed multiple compromises to be considered alongside the change proposed by the council majority, but none of those were discussed during deliberation Tuesday. It also included about 20 emails sent to the town. All but two requested leaving the ordinance as it stands.
A report from the Morrisville Police Department found nine noise complaints that had generated 911 calls related to golf course noise since the 2011 exception was approved. All of those were related to noise coming from Cary’s portion of the course, where Morrisville’s ordinances don’t apply.
Before the vote, Johnson criticized the revised ordinance and the deliberation process, which she said had “frustrated her greatly.”
“I have seen the solution stay the same throughout every conversation we’ve had, but I’ve seen the problem change over time,” Johnson said. “When this item first came to council, the problem was a quality of life issue. Of course, we overwhelmingly received input from the public that said there’s no issue here – the ordinance as it stands is fine.”
Johnson then addressed a concern voiced by Schlink and Garimella, who had said the town shouldn’t play favorites and grant some businesses exemptions just because they ask for them. She pointed to a variety of instances where the town has chosen to work with businesses one-on-one to craft ordinances agreeable for all parties.
“I gotta tell you, those of you who can say that with a straight face, I am floored,” Johnson said.
Schlink reiterated his belief that because larger municipalities such as Raleigh and Durham don’t have golf course noise exemptions, Morrisville shouldn’t have one either. He said he found it “incredible that some of my colleagues would use fear-mongering and misinformation” to block the change.
Chapel Hill has an exemption to its noise ordinance that allows golf course work to begin at 6:30 a.m.
Cawley said the Prestonwood management told him it would be willing to compromise and begin operations at 6:30 a.m., but the revision’s supporters did not address this at the meeting.
“The basic problem with what they were suggesting is that it worsens the situation,” Stohlman said later. “Prior to our change, you could mow the putting greens at 6, and all the other maintenance had to wait until 7. Their suggestion was to take all that activity that normally took place at 7 and move it to 6:30.”
Rao acknowledged the revision would be a hardship but said he favored passing it and seeing whether the imposition is as serious as golf course managers have said. He said the new time constraints could help the club be more efficient in its maintenance practices, but that he would be willing to revisit the vote if not.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan