What started as a noise complaint lodged last year against a Martinez car wash might lead to an entirely new county nuisance ordinance, officials say.
The county's current noise ordinance, like many around the nation, is based on the interpretation of "nuisance" and does not require a decibel reading to be presented as cause for a citation. The rule's vagueness is something that could be challenged in court, county officials have said.
The move to change the ordinance stems from a case against The Shine Shop Express Auto Wash on Furys Ferry Road in Martinez.
After complaints from neighbors, county code enforcement officials determined the noise to be a nuisance and issued a citation against the car wash in September 2006.
But legal wrangling in the 14 months since and problems with the way the case was filed have prevented a resolution.
The change in direction in the case came a few days after a Nov. 4 Columbia County News-Times report. The car wash's owners and attorney met with county officials, the district attorney's office and residents angered by the noise to discuss the case.
Richard Harmon, the county's director of building and commercial services, said the county has decided to hire a consultant to measure the noise outside the car wash.
The consultant will use a "national standard" for car washes that abut residential subdivisions to determine an "acceptable" noise level for the dryers, Harmon said.
Though the consultant was hired to work exclusively on The Shine Shop case, Harmon said the information could be used in crafting defined levels for a new noise ordinance.
"Changing the ordinance would set up some guidelines," he said.
To enforce defined decibel limits, the county would have to buy sound level readers and calibration equipment and certify employees in their operations.
Talks will continue Monday among the district attorney's office, the county and the car wash owners in hopes of resolving the matter, said Assistant District Attorney Mack Taylor.
Cited in September 2006, owners Ron and Mark Perry told county officials in November that the business received approval for its equipment before opening and had gone to great expense to correct the problem. They wrote that they had altered their hours and extended a fence to reduce noise. They also offered to add "noise damping insulation materials" to the building and a fence and to plant bamboo between the car wash and the neighbors.
The case went to court when those offers weren't fulfilled.
"We're working on a resolution, but nothing has been obtained or reached at this point," said John Donsbach, the attorney for the car wash owners.
Taylor said the case is set for arraignment in Superior Court in December.
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