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Loudoun supervisors delay decision amending county’s noise standards

Loudoun supervisors on Thursday agreed to delay consideration on amending the county’s noise standards to revise what they've called outdated guidelines.

The board voted 7-1-1 with Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) in opposition and Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At-Large) absent for the vote to forward consideration on the county’s noise standards to its Oct. 20 business meeting, this after citizens and several supervisors agreed the changes need to be reexamined.

“We can try and wordsmith up here tonight, but I believe to allay concerns and ensure that we all have a clear understanding and are not mis-stepping and have clear language in advance, not only for ourselves but for the public at large," Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) said before offering the motion.

The board’s current proposed amendments to the county’s noise standards include a maximum A-weighted sound level of 60 decibels for mixed-use residential developments, 55 decibels for residential and rural economy uses, 65 for commercial, civic and institutional uses and 70 for industrial uses.

But residents argued the proposed sound levels were too high -- especially for rural parts of the county -- and comparable to standards for big cities like Washington, D.C., New York City and even places in Fairfax, including Reston.

“I’m sure you understand that standards are set up to protect your citizens of excess noise which is detrimental to their health, peace and quietude,” Loudoun resident Jeff Evans told the board ahead of the vote. “You can’t have the same decibel in Reston as you have in Bluemont or in Middleburg.”

“I do not see why Loudoun cannot take public health as seriously as New York City,” Loudoun resident Marvin Watts, said. “All it takes is will and intelligence. It should be much easier here than in the heart of a great city.”

Amending the noise standards would also impose additional regulations on specific uses, including Loudoun’s bed and breakfast businesses and wineries

Loudouners also pressed the board to put better regulations in place for tonal noise from commercial uses like data centers.

Noise regulations on data centers however, has been an area county staff has recommended Loudoun not look into citing the “competitive disadvantage” it would put the county in with other regional jurisdictions when it comes to competing for businesses like data centers.

Staff also argued complaints about tonal noise from data centers has only been brought up for one such center, the massive Digital Realty in Ashburn.

“The Regency's data center noises is a cautionary tale that not every business is committed to being a good neighbor and setting reasonable noise standards for tonal noise and testing in a fair and logical way is sensible,” Caitlyn Lindgren, chairwoman of her homeowner’s association’s noise committee at the Regency Community in Ashburn, said.

Ahead of the board’s vote, Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) offered an amendment to direct staff to research options available to regulate tonal noise, identify costs for acquiring equipment or software to regulate tonal sound and what impacts it would have to the business community.

“The concern from the community and my concern is that we haven’t done enough research quite on the impact on this, and that there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what those impacts would be,” Meyer said, adding he thought it would be inexpensive to conduct further research on regulating tonal noise.

Vice Chair Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) asked county staff if Meyer’s amendment would even apply to the data center in question, but staff said the new standards would not apply to “legally established uses” and only to “expansions at set uses.”

“Doing with Supervisor Meyer wants sounds great, but it doesn't fix the Regency’s problem and that’s my concern and that doesn't get it done for now,” Buona said, adding the data center in question was “vested” under the old ordinance.

Meyer’s amendment ultimately failed 3-5-1 with Supervisors Koran Saines (D-Sterling), Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Meyer in support.
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