April 8, 2004

Revised Noise Ordinance Passes Common Council

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The Ithaca Common Council passed a revised noise ordinance last night after months of city-wide debate. The new ordinance, which closely resembles the one passed by the Governance Committee last week, increases the fines for noise violations and includes a list of nine aggravating factors that exacerbate any offense.

The ordinance reform process, initiated near the end of the administration of former Mayor Alan Cohen ’81, included a series of local debates among Ithaca residents, landlords and tenants. In a handful of open forums, Ithaca residents expressed desires for more stringent noise laws while landlords and student tenants articulated their criticisms of the proposed ordinance.

John Graves, a South Hill resident, presented the Common Council with a petition, signed by 86 of his neighbors, urging the council to pass “a noise ordinance that will be enforced.” The petition included a color-coded map of houses that had been violated by party-related behavior and addresses of those who signed.

“The real motives for the Common Council originally taking up the new noise ordinances and considering the aggravated noise ordinance is from South Hill. The South Hill Civic association just today presented the Common Council with 88 signatures that were collected in a single day from residents in that area that were really struggling with student noise from parties from I.C. students,” said Michael Taylor ’05 (D-Fourth ward). He explained that the conflict between permanent residents and student noise is exacerbated on South Hill because there is no real collegetown in the area surrounding Ithaca College.

“There will be many more complainants in South Hill likely than in Collegetown simply just because of the way it’s set up,” he said. During the meeting, students argued that the list of aggravating offenses unfairly targeted their party habits, while landlords objected to terms of the ordinance that render them responsible for their tenants noise violations.

Responding to landlord objections, the Governance Committee eliminated any substantive consequences applied to landlords for first and second noise violations of their tenants last week. However, this amendment left landlords whose tenants violated the ordinance three times susceptible to consequences. Protesting the remaining terms that render landlords responsible for their tenants’ actions, property owners addressed the Common Council last night.

“The provision is harsh and unreasonable,” said Chris Anagost ’65, a Collegetown landlord.

Larry Beck, the president of the Landlords Association of Tompkins County underscored the difficulty that landlords face in enforcing behavior standards, adding that making landlords responsible only reflects the incompetence of local law enforcement.

“To devolve that failed responsibility to property owners is wrong,” he said.

As a result of such overwhelming concern, the Common Council decided to remove any language that incriminated landlords for their tenants’ behavior, pending a possible re-examination of the issue in the future.

“I agree with the philosophy that landlords are not responsible for the conduct of their tenants,” said Joel Zumoff (D-Third ward). “There are a lot of responsible landlords in town. People are responsible for their own actions.”

Zumoff added that increasing the fines is an appropriate way to encourage ordinance compliance.

“Raising the fines is a valid way of addressing the people committing the offenses,” he said.

Taylor supported this amendment in the interest of tenants, arguing that in many contracts, tenants would carry the financial burden of any fines received by the landlord.

“[If landlords were fined], tenants would end up paying a more severe fine than their landlords,” he said.

While most council members were eager to pass the ordinance and end the process that has consumed their attention for months, other members argued that the council was not prepared to make an educated decision as of last night.

Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-Fourth ward) argued that he was unfamiliar with changes made to the language of the ordinance since the Governance Committee’s meeting last week. He was specifically referring to a revision that adds events receiving multiple noise-related complaints to the list of aggravating offenses. Townsend argued that adding language to the ordinance after it was passed by the committee violated traditional Common Council procedure.

“It seems to me that we are doing committee work on the floor [of the Council],” Townsend said.

Townsend voiced concern that the ordinance was being rushed into law so as to be implemented in time for Slope Day and Senior Week next month.

“We shouldn’t just push it through because of Senior Week. It is a very delicate situation,” he said.

Pam Mackesey ’89 (D-First ward), responded to Townsend’s concerns by explaining that, while this was the first time that such language appeared in the ordinance, the subject of consequences for multiple complaints had been discussed at length by the committee.

Townsend’s motion to table the voting until next month failed, and the revised noise ordinance passed, with nine council members voting in its favor and one voting against. Taylor was the sole opponent to the ordinance.

“I passionately came out against it … however, I decided to go with what Mike and I had previously talked about and that was that he would vote against it, and he would vote for it because in representing our constituents, we have people who are for it and people who are against it,” Townsend said.

Archived article by Ellen Miller
Sun Senior Writer