City noise ordinance change fizzles

Community business leaders made no attempt at the year’s last Oak Harbor City Council meeting to sugarcoat their collective disdain for nuisance noise amendments that they felt would be detrimental to conducting commerce.

Responding to the pressure, the council ultimately voted to refer the issue to Mayor-elect Jim Slowik and the newly seated City Council in order to form a new committee to address the ordinance and concerns.

“All the parties have to be included,” said Councilwoman Sue Karahalios at the Dec. 18 meeting.

Complaints of noisy parking lot sweeping at city businesses first became an issue in August after a resident near Albertsons complained about machinery being operated in the area before 7 a.m.

The city opted to first ask the company responsible for sweeping to voluntarily cease operating at unreasonable hours. Simply alternating hours and sweeping sites only succeeded in moving the problem to a different location. Complaints in late-November prompted the council to revisit the issue.

City Attorney Phil Bleyhl made amendments to the noise code in November by prohibiting the operation of machinery between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., granted the racket could be heard 150-feet from the property line. He suggested the hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. as an alternative.

The ordinance would exempt the collection of waste after 6 a.m. and the repair of sewers after 9 p.m. and before 7 a.m.

The council picked up the tabled issue last Tuesday. The noise code amendments prohibited operation of parking lot cleaning equipment between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., replacing the existing hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Bob Drennen, Albertsons store director, vehemently disapproved of the ordinance, submitting a letter from Azam Qayum, an attorney from the firm that represents the owners of the retail portions of the shopping center. The letter stated that businesses were not given proper notice of upcoming council decisions.

“Our last communication with the city was a phone call from a city administrator that the matter has been set aside from the time being,” Qayum wrote.

The attorney said passing the ordinance would be tantamount to denying the client due process and claimed that evidence suggested Albertsons had been targeted by the city. Approval would lead to litigation against the city, the letter concluded.

City Administrator Paul Schmidt said the city provided businesses ample notice of the proposed amendments in the form of a newspaper display ad. He told the council the advertisement was the most cost-effective method to spread the information.

Representatives from Whirlwind Services, the company contracted to clean parking lots in Oak Harbor and in countless other municipalities along the Interstate 5 corridor, said work can only be carried out in early hours.

“It’s going to be a bigger problem than you think it is,” said Jay Rollins, Whirlwind owner and chief financial officer, adding that other services like fuel delivery trucks create the same decibel levels at the same hours.

Tiffany Stumpf, manager of Whirlwind’s environmental services division, said street sweeping is one of six areas that cities must address in the stormwater mitigation plan.

The amendments would adversely affect businesses like Albertsons and Starbucks that open at 6 a.m. or earlier.

Rollins said one truck is dispatched to Oak Harbor with a finite amount of equipment. He said the workers are unable to sweep with cars in the parking lot because of liability issues, which necessitates a very early start for a day project that can take more than seven hours to cover all of the sites.

Jill Johnson, Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce executive director, brought forward in a submitted letter looming question marks in what she said would be an intricate issue that could not be adequately addressed simply by designating blanket hours.

“As our residential and business districts begin to merge, the chamber and our local businesses would like to work with the city on finding a compromise that does not unduly restrict our business community while at the same time protecting the quality of life of our residents,” the letter read. “As presented, the proposed ordinance change does not strike that balance and we request that this item be referred back to staff until an adequate compromise can be reached.”

Slowik, donning the hat of business owner, told the council that he lives one block above Albertsons. As a light sleeper, he has listened to the sweepers for years without complaint.

“It’s not that noisy,” the mayor-elect said. “It’s a bad ordinance.”

Councilman Paul Brewer disagreed with the decision to pass the issue on to the next council, citing a history — as recently as that night — of approving “bad ordinances.”

“It seems we always have time to pass a bad ordinance,” he said.

The ordinance was tabled by the council with the intention of referring the quandary to the new administration.

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