An article published Jan. 5 in the District Weekly on a future city noise law was in error in reporting that there is no prohibition against the playing of loud musical records outside stores. Marvin Fink, acting chief of noise control for the D.C. Environmental Health Administration, said existing police regulations permit noise levels no greater than 78 decibels at a distance of one meter from a loudspeaker.
You are walking along F Street in downtown Washington; suddenly a loudspeaker over the doorway of a music store starts blaring a loud, raucus rock tune.
Today that sound, however loud and jarring, is legal. But by next spring, barring an unforeseen reversal, turning the volume up too high will be a violation of law, punishable by a fine and, in some extreme cases, a jail sentence.
The prohibition against sidewalk music amplification is just a small part of the dictrict of Columbia's first comprehensive anti-noise law, enacted in September by the City Council and recently signed by Mayor Walter E. Washington.
Unless it is rejected by Congress, which is considered unlikely, the measure should go into effect in March or April. But it probably will take several months after that for the city to gear up for enforcement. The public will be given an opportunity to comment on noise testing procedures.
The comprehensive law, which was proposed by Mayor Washington, is based on model legislation drafted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It will replace a patchwork of local regulations that deal with noise as a side issue to such matters as blasting, traffic, land-use zoning and motorboat navigation on the Potomac River.
The purpose of the new measure was summed up in a single sentence in an official report submitted to the council by its committee on transportation and environmental affairs: "Excessive noise annoys, irritates and can harm humans."
Broadly, the new law limits the decibels that will be permitted at each owner's property line. Noise levels will be based on zoning of each area, with more noise permitted, for example, in industrial areas than in residential sections.
There will be tighter restrictions at night (from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.) than in the daytime. And additional restraints will be imposed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
The allowable noise levels under the new law:
Residential, special and waterfront zones - 60 decibels in the daytime: 55 at night.
Commercial and light manufacturinf zones - 65 decibels in the daytime; 60 at night.
Industrial zones - 70 decibels in the daytime; 65 at night.
All other areas - 60 decibels day and night.
There will be some major exemptions for the most trouble some sources of noise - trash compactors and railroad trains, for example, and individual pieces of construction equipment.
In general existing traffic noises will not be restricted.However, vehicle mufflers may not be altered to create more noise than the manufacturer intended. Under the new law, city officials must study whether to add noise levels to the city's periodic auto inspection program.
On that point, the council committee observed "that while it would be nice to require motor vehicles to be quieter, that it was important to adopt those standards which are in use around the country.The District is simply too small an area to adopt its own standards. They simply would not be enforceable."
The new law also prohibits such instalations such as the overly loud storefront amplifier on F Street: A "sound amplifier or other similar machine . . . on private property or public space shall be prohibited in excess of 78 (decibels) at a distance not less than one meter from (the) source." A meter is slightly shorter than a yard.
An exemption is granted for public events, providing a permit for the event has been issued.Sirens and horns on ambulances police cars and fire equipment, a widespread source of community complaints, will not be specifically restricted, although the new law will prohibit "unnecessary noise."
Among other provisions of the new law:
Noise that exists at levels illegal under the new law may continue for no more than 120 days after the measure goes into effect.
Hand power tools, power mowers and other garden and snow-removal equipment will be permitted in excess of the allowable noise levels, except at night.
Automobiles or trucks with amplifiers may cruise in traffic, expcept from 9 p.m. to 9:30 a.m. and from 4 to 6:30 p.m., but must keep moving at no less than 5 miles an hour. If the vehicle stops in traffic, the sound can continue only for one minute and then must be turned off.
Musical instruments played in dwellings are exempt.
The council committee added one other noteworthy exemption to the bill. It permits any noise from "permanently installed church bells or music connected with worship or official church ceremonies."
Not entirely by coincidence, the chairman of the committee is Council member jerry A. Moore Jr (R-at-large(, who is pastor of the 19th Street Baptish Church.