Some golf course residents are making a lot of noise to preserve their peace and quiet.
Residents – mostly from the Preston neighborhood – have emailed town leaders, spoken at council meetings, created a website and published editorial cartoons of the mayor in the newspaper to fight an effort by Cary leaders to re-write the town’s noise restrictions on golf courses.
The council initiated a review of the rules in October after some residents complained that noisy golf course crews were disturbing their peace in early morning hours, and managers at MacGregor Downs, Lochmere and Prestonwood golf courses argued that Cary’s noise rules were too vague.
On May 5, Cary Town Council members tentatively approved new, more relaxed 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 is expected to officially adopt the changes at its meeting on July 9.
Cary council members say the new rules merely codify maintenance routines that courses have practiced for years.
“We’re changing the ordinance, but we’re not changing the practice,” Weinbrecht said.
Managers of Prestonwood, MacGregor Downs and Lochmere agreed in a joint statement emailed June 25 to The Cary News.
“Despite recent assertions of a few individuals, the reality is our clubs will not change our daily maintenance practices under the new ordinance language,” it says. “Our businesses would, however, have clarity under the new ordinance language, which we do not presently have and which is vital to our ability to operate.”
But some residents think golf courses will start louder work earlier and say town leaders pushed through the new rules to avoid public backlash.
“My big concern is what they could do, not what they have done,” said Rob Woodard, who sits on the Preston Community Association board of directors. “They seem to be steamrolling this.”
The rules presented in May are less restrictive than what town staff proposed in March. Then, staff recommended keeping most of the rules the same or making them more restrictive. For example, the proposal would have continued to define golf course greens as putting surfaces, rather than any course playing surface, the new definition.
Rather than accept the recommendation in March, Cary Town Council members delayed action at Mayor Harold Weinbrecht’s request. Weinbrecht said then that the three golf course managers asked if they could meet to talk about concerns they had with the proposal.
On May 5, the next time staff presented information to the council, it reversed its opinion on three topics: off-season maintenance, the definition of golf course greens and whether maintenance crews should be able to use blowers and other equipment before 7 a.m. in the peak business months.
Cary staff says it posted the new recommendations online on April 29 as an attachment to the May 5 meeting agenda. But Woodard and Bob Butler, a Morrisville resident who lives on the Prestonwood course, say residents didn’t have enough time to react.
After the council’s May vote, Butler created a protest petition on change.org, launched letussleep.org to counter the town’s claims and paid to publish two ads with editorial cartoons in The Cary News. The first depicts Weinbrecht using a leaf blower in someone’s bedroom, while the second portrays him driving a steamroller over people.
“They’ve left us no option but to do things that get attention,” Butler said.
Weinbrecht said he can’t remember the last time someone targeted him in such a way.
“If they want to do cartoons of me that’s fine,” Weinbrecht said. “It’s disappointing that you have a few individuals stirring this up when nothing’s really changing.”
Weinbrecht and other council members, such as Don Frantz, rejected the notion that the council pushed something through without public feedback, noting that several people spoke about the issue at the May 5 council meeting – and some of them supported the new rules.
“Council’s gotten quite a bit of public input on it,” Frantz said last week. “Most of the feedback I’m getting on it is split.”
In the golf course managers’ statement said Prestonwood received noise complaints from one resident out of 2,400 homes in the last four years. The statement said MacGregory Downs, with 590 homes, and Lochmere, with 700 homes, each had one noise complaint as well.
“Because of improvements in technology over the last several decades, we now generate less noise than ever before,” the statement said.
Butler said he has support from dozens of neighbors who don’t want to speak out publicly because they’re afraid of being ostracized by neighbors and country club members. As of June 26, his petition on change.org had 55 supporters.
He hopes the website and online petition will prompt the council to slow down its changes and work with local community groups.
The Preston Community Association board of directors joined Butler in calling for a “slower, more deliberate, and more transparent approach” to noise rule changes in a letter it sent Cary council members on May 23.
“The Town of Cary had very limited discussions with homeowners before their recent vote and appears to have talked to no homeowners in person before their vote,” Patricia Barrow, Preston’s property manager, wrote to the council. “The Town of Cary staff did find ample time to meet in person with the management of golf courses in Cary.”
The council doesn’t need more time to consider the issue, Weinbrecht said.
“We’re closing in on nine months (of review),” he said. “If we were changing something, that would be one thing. But why do we need more time? We’re just codifying something that’s been practiced for years.”
Added the golf course managers, “For decades, our clubs have been good neighbors to our residents and want to continue to be good neighbors for decades to come.”
Proposed rule changes
The Town of Cary is poised to adopt the following July 9.
Starting times in off-season
Current: Town rules currently prohibit golf courses from starting maintenance before 9 a.m. on weekends from October through March, considered off-season golfing months.
Proposed: The council instructed staff to allow maintenance to start at 7 a.m. on weekends in those months.
Start times in peak months
Current: From April through September, town rules now prohibit courses from using blowers or mowing any surface of the course other than the greens before 7 a.m.
Proposed: The council said it wants to exempt all golf course activity from the noise rules after 6 a.m. from April through September.
Current: Town rules state 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.
Proposed: The council agreed the town should issue violations when a noise reaches 63 decibels, or when a noise measures at an average of 60 decibels over the course of a minute.