At the end of a typical work week, Bellaire resident Christina Stone prepares for the weekend at home. As Friday evening comes to an end, an early Saturday morning routine commences—the sound of dumpsters being emptied at 4 a.m.

“We have a noise ordinance; I think it’s 7 a.m.,” Stone said. “If they come at 7 a.m. and I’m still asleep and they wake me up, that’s OK because that’s in compliance with the noise ordinance, but not 4 a.m.”

Her backyard faces the alley behind one of the shopping centers in town. While Stone is aware of the city of Bellaire’s noise ordinances, she said she thinks the city’s existing ordinances could be enforced more.

“I think that the city can figure out a way to do it. They need to cite these businesses,” she said.

Research completed in 2022 by Bellaire’s Planning and Zoning Commission found the city’s current compliance standards and penalties for violations regarding noise regulations were inconsistent. The commission also found Bellaire’s existing lighting regulations offered little guidance and were too general.

In order to establish a more defined and efficient enforcement process, Bellaire officials have been working together to refine and combine the city’s existing noise and lighting ordinances.

“Noise and lighting issues have been an important aspect of many applications considered by the commission in recent years, and a review of complaints filed with the Bellaire Police Department and code enforcement suggest quality of life concerns exist in the city,” Commission Chair Weldon Taylor said in a February statement to City Council.

Changes, new developments

Four principles guided the commission’s decision to review Bellaire’s current noise and lighting issues, Weldon said.

One was to clarify the purpose behind each noise and lighting regulation; a second was to protect and support the city’s character as the “City of Homes”; a third was to provide more guidance to new and existing developers; and a fourth was to ensure that regulations are clear to properly support how the Bellaire Police Department can enforce protocols.

Director of Development Services Travis Tanner said the proposed changes, released in February, wouldn’t drastically alter the way things are now. Instead, he said they would position city officials to better deal with issues that could arise, including how future developments in the city could impact residential areas when it comes to lighting and noise.

“We’re really trying to address significant nuisance issues that come along often with commercial development being adjacent to residential development, not things that people would normally do on their residential property that doesn’t bother other people,” Tanner said.

The draft ordinance includes direction for new construction related to properties located directly adjacent to residentially zoned areas.

For commercial properties and developers applying for city permits, proposed changes would require a photometric analysis that studies lighting at a site before construction begins. The data provides specific illumination standards and visualizes how much light is distributed, including at night.

With the proposed noise ordinance changes, a noise nuisance would be defined as a person, object or animal that makes loud, unnecessary noise that either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, health, peace or safety of others within city limits.

When it comes to enforcing current noise level regulations, Bellaire’s code is divided into residential, commercial and industrial categories, which each have their own maximum noise levels.

From 7 a.m.-10 p.m., sounds can only range from 55-75 decibels depending on the category. From 10 p.m.-7 a.m., maximum sound levels would not be able to exceed 60 decibels in residential areas.

Proposed noise ordinance changes would establish quiet and nonquiet hours in the city. Quiet hours on weekdays would mean that noises above 65 decibels for residents and 72 decibels for nonresidential zones would be prohibited from 10 p.m.-7 a.m. For weekends, prohibited noise levels would not be allowed from 10 p.m.-8 a.m.

New penalties

From July 2020 until April 2023, more than 430 noise complaint records were filed with the city with complaints ranging from construction to loud music and parties.

The new ordinance calls for penalty fees for both noise and lighting violations. Those found guilty of a misdemeanor would pay no less than $150 for the first offense and no less than $500 for any subsequent offense. Currently, miscellaneous noise violations have a $25 minimum penalty.

If a lighting complaint is made, new rules could mean a compliance inspection would be conducted by the city, according to the draft ordinance.

City staff aim to finalize an ordinance draft by June and present it to council, Tanner said. Following that, a public hearing would be scheduled for residents and local businesses to weigh in. From there, council would set a future date for the ordinance to go for a vote.When it comes to configuring the best practices for both commercial and residential lighting and noise regulations in the city, Mayor Andrew Friedberg said the city should approach it with a mindset of what problems they are trying to solve.

“We’re not trying to regulate people’s freedoms, but we are trying to protect neighbors from externalities that are a shared environment,” Friedberg said.