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Leaders weighing in on noise law

ALBANY, Ga. -- County leaders on Monday began deliberating the possibility of creating a noise ordinance following a petition signed by homeowners in one Dougherty County neighborhood angry about what they allege is the incessant practicing of a local student musician.

During Monday's Public Safety Committee meeting of the Dougherty County Commission, county leaders and police officials discussed ongoing friction between neighbors in Acree.

But county commissioners had reservations about adopting an entire new ordinance based on a series of complaints all involving the same people, when that ordinance, which would likely apply the noise emitted by other objects like cars, stereo systems and even crowd noise at football games, may end up being too cumbersome to enforce.

Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek said that police have responded to calls on the 4400 block of Wilder Avenue eight times since November 2008 -- the latest coming on March 26.

Each time, no illegal activity was observed by officers, but the complainant in many of the calls, Jerome Buckhalter, told officers that a teen who lives at the neighboring house would bang repeatedly on his drumset, which was positioned outside of the home.

Police have spoken with the teen's mother, Deena Deal, who insists that her son only practices after school and stops generally around dark.

Sometime after the March 26, incident, Buckhalter circulated a petition to the neighbors asking that the county get involved and put together a noise ordinance that would bar the excessive drumming.

In total, 11 neighbors signed what was called the "Drummer Boy Petition," but when asked for a statement by police, several of the neighbors refused to give statements and would not agree to testify in court over the matter. According to Cheek, one of the neighbors said that he didn't even hear the drumming, but just signed the petition in support of his neighbors.

In discussing the matter Monday, the committee members -- Chairman Muarlean Edwards, Commissioner Jack Stone and Commissioner Gloria Gaines -- agreed to let County Attorney Spencer Lee and Cheek mediate between the two neighbors to try and find some type of resolution.

In the meantime, county staff will also research noise ordinances so that the committee can make a determination about whether to bring the matter before the full commission.

The county currently has no noise ordinance and the city, who does, doesn't enforce it because they're waiting on technology to arrive to help measure the volume of noise when they get a complaint.

Edwards said that it was a two-pronged issue: one, involving the spat between the neighbors and, two, whether the county should regulate noise levels.

"The picture is really bigger than just this incident," Edwards said. "Loud noise includes noise from cars, and things like that so I think we need to take that into consideration."

But on the flip side of the issue, Gaines said during the meeting that changes in population density in Dougherty County over the years may facilitate the need for an ordinance.

"Dougherty County is changing," Gaines told her fellow commissioners. "As the unincorporated areas of the county continue to urbanize, maybe we need to look at implementing a noise ordinance."