The peace and quiet that Bellewood Drive residents Ponda Holt and Judy Vinson say they once enjoyed has been replaced with the intrusive roar of dryers at a car wash.
The neighbors say they haven't been able sit on their decks or play with their grandchildren in their backyards without dryer noise since The Shine Shop Express Auto Wash opened on Furys Ferry Road behind their Martinez homes in June 2006.
"I love to sit on my deck, but there's so much racket you can't enjoy the quiet," said Vinson, who added that she didn't bother opening her swimming pool this summer because of the noise.
Holt and Vinson are among a group of neighbors who complained about the noise, which led to a county ordinance citation that brought the car wash's owners to Magistrate Court in January.
Car wash owners Ron and Mark Perry asked for a jury trial, which automatically moved the case to Superior Court. But nearly 11 months later, the case has yet to go before a judge.
"It's just not right," said Holt, who said she is frustrated by delays and by the Perrys' reneging on a letter they wrote to the county with proposals to curb the noise. An attorney for the Perrys insists the owners have worked to correct the problem.
A year of delays
After more than a year of living with the noise, Holt went before county commissioners to plead for their help. Commissioner Tommy Mercer said he was "frustrated" by delays in the court process and called the situation a "quagmire."
County officials told Holt there is little more that could be done until the matter goes to court.
That's where the matter first headed on Sept. 9, 2006, when county officials issued a noise violation notice requiring "corrective action" within 30 days "to alleviate the excessive noise," according a Nov. 8 follow-up letter to the car wash obtained by The News-Times.
The letter noted efforts had been made by the owners to reduce noise. But when a code enforcement officer visited Bellewood Drive on Oct. 30, 2006, the officer determined "the noise (was) still a nuisance to nearby residential properties... requiring further action(s) to muffle the sound ..."
The Perrys replied in a Nov. 21 letter that the business received approval for their equipment prior to opening and had gone to great expense to correct the problem. They wrote that they had taken steps to reduce noise by altering their hours of operation and extending a fence.
In that letter, the Perrys offered to add "noise damping insulation materials" to the building and a fence. They also offered to plant bamboo between the car wash and the neighbors.
Richard Harmon, the county's director of Building and Commercial Services, said that offer was never fulfilled. When the case went before Chief Magistrate Court Judge J. Wade Padgett on Jan. 10, the owners asked for a jury trial.
A technicality in how the case was filed has delayed its processing, said Clerk of Court Cindy Mason. The case is still pending and has not been arraigned or assigned to a Superior Court judge, assistant district attorney Mack Taylor said.
If convicted, the owners face a fine of up to $1,000 and any additional requirements to abate the noise that a judge might add, Taylor said.
Fighting the case
John Donsbach, an attorney representing The Shine Shop, declined to answer specific questions about the case.
In a written statement, Donsbach denied the business has violated the law.
Donsbach would not comment about any possible defense of the charges or say if he would challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance.
The ordinance is based on the interpretation of "nuisance" and does not require a reading of decibels to be presented as cause for a citation.
"Our ordinance is not much different from other ordinances from around the country," Harmon said. A code compliance officer determined the car wash to be a nuisance and recorded the sound, he said.
"It's like a pipe, like a trumpet blowing ... right at you," Harmon said. He said he thinks the car wash should make additional changes to buffer the noise.
"We want that business to stay. We don't want it to go away," Harmon said. "But at the same time, we want the people in that subdivision to live in peace."
Holt said she doesn't know what she'll do if the situation does not improve.
"I'll have to cross that bridge when we get there," she said.
Click here to listen to an mp3 of the sounds from the car wash.
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