Gwinnett County residents will need to be a little more careful about how much noise they make when they set off fireworks.
The county has a new noise ordinance going into effect Tuesday that changes how officials will determine whether a noise can be considered a violation of the ordinance. The ordinance was adopted May 18.
“To balance the needs of both residents and businesses in our county, staff has completely rewritten the Noise Control Ordinance,” Deputy County Attorney Theresa Cox told commissioners on May 18. “Like the (previous) ordinance, the (new) ordinance uses the plainly audible standard for determining wether a sound is a violation.”
The new ordinance replaces the noise ordinance that county officials put in place in 2015, when consumer fireworks were first made legal in Georgia. After that ordinance was put in place, lawmakers went back and placed some restrictions on when fireworks could be used since the original law legalizing them lacked any restrictions on when they could be used.
Under Gwinnett’s new noise ordinance, officials will use location, time of day and the distance from which the noise can be plainly audible to determine whether residents are in violation. The only exemptions for fireworks are those days that are exempt under state law.
That means the ordinance does not apply to fireworks that are set off between 10 a.m and 11:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, on the last Saturday and Sunday in May (i.e. the Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding Memorial Day), July 3 and July 4 and Labor Day. There is also an exemption from midnight until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
As far as the “plainly audible” standard that officials said they will use, the new ordinance states, “Plainly audible shall mean any sound produced by a source, which can be heard by any person of ordinary sensibilities using his or her unaided hearing facilities. Measurement standards shall be the auditory senses. Words and phrases need not to discernible and low frequency sound reverberations are included.”
The distance a sound is allowed to travel before it becomes a violation depends on the time of day.
In nonresidential zoning districts, it is 500 feet from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and from 7 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 200 feet from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 11:59 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Meanwhile, in mixed-use zoning districts, it is 300 feet from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 7 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 150 feet from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 11:59 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
In multi-family residential zoning districts, it is 25 feet from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 feet from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 11 p.m. until 8 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Elsewhere, in single-family residential zoning districts, it is 300 feet from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 50 feet from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 11 p.m. until 8 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
On privately owned outdoor property, it is 300 feet from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 7 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 100 feet from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 11:59 p.m. until 7 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
If that privately-owned out property’s primary use is as a performance venue, however, the same distance rules for non-residential districts will apply.
Sounds made at publicly-owned stadiums, arenas, civic center or ballpark, Gwinnett County Public Schools properties or events, or places of worship, as well as government employees who are making sounds that are produced in their line of work are exempt under the ordinance. Sounds made by aircraft at Briscoe Field, radios or music players in cars on streets or highways, domestic animals and warning sirens are also exempt.
County officials will also establish a process where people who expect to hold events that will exceed the allowed sound limit to apply for a noise permit to hold the event. The permits will be issued by the county’s planning and development department.
County Commissioner Marlene Fosque pointed out the ordinance, and the new permit process, could apply to other events beyond those which involve fireworks, however.
“With a lot of graduation parties getting ready to start, or happen, if someone knew that they were going to have a large party — and they are social distancing — but if they are going to have a large party, they can get a permit for noise for a certain time frame or like in the evenings or something like that,” Fosque said during a discussion before the commission’s vote on the ordinance in mid-May.