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Noise and nuisance ordinance rejected

Sarah Harrington

(1/22) The Emmitsburg town council unanimously rejected a proposed nuisance ordinance submitted by the Mayor on the grounds that it was too open for interpretation and thus potential abuse.

The ordinance, first proposed back in October in response to frequent complaints about late night noise and loud parties, targeted residents who are reported for three noise or nuisance complaints in one year that have: "a negative impact on the well-being of other persons, disturbing the quality of life of other persons; and is injurious to public health, safety, or welfare, or obstructs the reasonable use of property."

A violation notice would be issued informing accused residents of forthcoming legal actions if the nuisance is not abated. However, the ordinance did not clarify the criteria that the mayor or town manager would use to determine if a complaint was in fact a valid complaint.

The initial response of the public in October was less than favorable. One of the main concerns expressed by landlords was that the ordinance could be misinterpreted and make life difficult for renters. Attendees at the October meeting also agreed that the definition of "nuisance" needed to be clarified.

For example, the ordinance includes in its definition of nuisance: "Property used for the storage or concealment of illegal weapons, stolen property, contraband, or property where the tenant, owner, or other occupant has been convicted of violations of criminal law occurring on, in, or in relation to the property."

A revision of the ordnance, based upon input from the October meeting, was represented to the town council at its January 20th meeting. Upon review the commissioners unanimously rejected it, stating they still had concerns with the proposed definition of nuisance and how the mayor and/or town manager will determine what qualifies as a violation. In addition, the commissioners expressed concern that the penalties proposed for violation of the ordinance were too severe.

As written, the ordinance allows the town to order a tenant, "who knew or should have known of the existence of the nuisance to vacate a property within 72 hours or to demand a plan to ensure that the property will not again be used for a nuisance."

The town council asked Commissioner Joe Ritz to have the Citizen Advisory Committee review the ordinance and make recommendations for improvement that will ensure a positive contribution to the quality of life in Emmitsburg. If the Advisory Committee is unable to modify the ordinance to achieve that goal, then that determination will be presented to the Town Council instead.

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