Golf course crews may soon be able to start course maintenance earlier in the day and use a wider variety of equipment, but likely will have to operate under stricter noise rules.
The Cary Town Council on Tuesday directed town staff to draw up new rules governing when golf courses can start maintenance each day, what part of the course they can treat, what type of equipment they can use and how loud they can be.
The council initiated a review of the rules months ago after some residents complained that noisy golf course crews were disturbing their peace in early morning hours.
While those residents hoped Cary would tighten its rules, course managers from MacGregor Downs, Prestonwood and Lochmere country clubs lobbied the town to loosen its rules – emphasizing their customers’ desires for early tee times.
Nearly a dozen people spoke at the Town Council meeting May 5 before Cary leaders ultimately directed staff to loosen a majority of the golf course maintenance rules in question. The council is expected to formally approve new rules at a meeting in the next few months.
Town rules currently prohibit golf courses from starting maintenance before 9 a.m. on weekends from October through March, considered off-season golfing months. The council, in an informal vote, opted to allow maintenance to start at 7 a.m. on weekends in those months.
Meanwhile, from April through September, town rules currently prohibit courses from using blowers or mowing any surface of the course other than the greens before 7 a.m.
The council said Tuesday they want to exempt all golf course activity from the noise rules after 6 a.m. from April through September.
But the council added that it wants to strengthen its definition of what constitutes a noise violation across town – not just pertaining to golf courses.
Town rules now state that a noise violation occurs if someone makes a noise exceeding 60 decibels during prohibited hours. But the rules don’t specify whether equipment noise is limited to less than 60 decibels at any point – or limited to 60 decibels as an average over an extended period of time, which is how noise is measured at Koka Booth Amphitheatre.
The council agreed that the town should measure issue violations whenever a noise reaches 63 decibels, or when a noise measures at an average of 60 decibels over the course of a minute.
Some residents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting complained that the town staff and some council members valued the opinion of business owners over golf course residents.
Bob Butler, who lives on the Preston Highlands course but has a Morrisville address, pointed out that the staff’s recommendation for the noise rules changed after some Cary staff members met with management from MacGregor Downs, Prestonwood and Lochmere country clubs, a meeting staff acknowledged in a report.
Before the Town Council delayed a discussion March 12 on the noise and maintenance rules, town staff was poised to recommend maintaining its early morning bans on blowers and mowing surfaces, except for putting greens before 7 a.m., in the summer months.
Butler said town staff should have met with affected residents, too.
“It must have been quite a meeting for a 180-degree turn,” Butler said.
Council members said they learned from golf course managers that there’s no use mowing greens unless they can use a blower to clean them first. Otherwise pine cones and other yard debris could get stuck in mowing equipment and damage the greens, which tend to be more delicate than the rest of the course.
As for the expanded noise rule exemption for golf courses, some residents appealed to the council’s appreciation of a good night’s sleep.
“I don’t think you’d want that noise outside your house at 6 a.m., and we don’t either,” said Jim Kilpatrick, who lives in MacGregor Downs. He noted that most towns in Wake County don’t exempt golf courses from their noise ordinances.
Cary council members Lori Bush and Ed Yerha agreed and said they opposed the rule change.
“I think those two hours are precious,” Yerha said, referring to weekend sleep between October and March.
Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman also emailed Cary Council members before the May 5 meeting to ask that they reconsider the town staff’s recommendation to loosen some rules. The Prestonwood course is split between Cary and Morrisville.
“In reading the briefing material, I honestly don’t know if the staff recommendations improve the situation for our residents,” Stohlman wrote,. “If anything, if seems to make matters worse.
“We may expect those that live on a golf course to accept course maintenance noise as a part of deal, but the significant change in direction in staff’s recommendations needs more review,” he wrote.
Council members ultimately sided with residents such as Curtis Scott, a MacGregor Downs member who described the complaints as minimal and the extra morning work hours as significant.
Scott compared the course’s duty to make play available to that of a restaurant to serve dinner when customers want it.
“If you were going to postpone dinner for an hour, you’re not serving your population well,” he said.