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Even in rural areas, good noise bylaws make good neighbours

As Wellesley Township showed this week, municipal noise bylaws are always in need of a few tweaks. And, as with many rules governing our ever-changing societies, they’re a work in progress rather than being carved in stone.

That’s due to the fact that growth, demographics and even social norms shift in a way that intrudes on even the most bucolic image of life in the rural townships. From traffic noise to the constant hum of the devices we rely on daily, there’s never really a quiet moment.

The background noise of life goes largely unnoticed these days – save for those rare moments when the power goes out and we realize just what quiet really is – but the rules exist for a host of other noises that intrude on our lives, the result of living in close proximity to other human beings. Barking dogs and blaring stereos are standard neighbourhood issues, compounded at times by more persistent drones of industrial and commercial operations, from the ubiquitous transport trucks to gravel pit operations, the latter a growing concern in this neck of the woods.

The review of the township noise bylaw in Wellesley is something with which most municipalities grapple at least periodically.

In every community, there are longstanding issues when it comes to dealing with complaints from the public, no matter how valid. Take, for instance, the odour problems associated with what is now the Lanxess plant in Elmira. There was little action and even fewer penalties over the years it took for the complaints to be addressed. Gravel pits are another problem child area residents are now well versed on: across Ontario, provincial officials have routinely failed to protect the public interest, let alone shut down offenders, even in cases where the pits should never have been allowed in the first place.

Once a business is in operation, officials seem loath to levy fines – even the inconsequential ones laid out in toothless regulations – when there are ongoing disturbances.

In that climate, residents are right to be skeptical government officials will be there to help them. In cases where the municipality imposes a (potential) problem on a neighbourhood – perhaps the likes of a gravel pit or even a kennel – there must be provisions to remedy the decision.

For municipalities, that differs from often meddlesome bylaws covering parking and property standards, for instance.

Few people would take issue with the municipality taking action in the case, for instance, of an incessantly barking dog. Everyone within earshot would welcome the intervention. The same goes for other noise-related complaints – loud parties, stereos routinely cranked to 10, homeowners often eager to use power tools early in the day or late at night, to name a few. These instances are universally disruptive, and are precisely why enforcement is necessary: some people just aren’t considerate of their neighbours.

Where there has been some pushback from the public is on the prospect of overzealous enforcement against the common sounds of living, including the kind of outdoor festivities that people enjoy in the summer. Nobody wants a visit from the ‘fun police’ bent on quashing the joy out of living, already a threat in our over-regulated nanny state.

Ideally, enforcement in those circumstances would come with a light touch – education rather than punitive action, for instance – in keeping with the township’s rural lifestyle. That extends to neighbours being more, well, neighbourly in settling disputes. Just as good fences are said to make good neighbours, good rules can do the same, even if the face of inconsiderate actions.

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