Town of Portsmouth, RI
Newport County
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
[HISTORY: Adopted by the Town Council of the Town of Portsmouth 8-5-1991 by Ord. No. 91-8-5. Amendments noted where applicable.]
Alarms — See Ch. 83.
Nuisances — See Ch. 260.
The Portsmouth Town Council hereby finds and declares that:
Excessive noise is a serious hazard to the public health and welfare and the quality of life.
A substantial body of science and technology exists by which excessive noise can be substantially abated without serious inconvenience to the public.
Certain of the noise-producing equipment in this community is essential to the quality of life herein and should be allowed to continue at reasonable levels with moderate regulation.
Each person has a right to an environment reasonably free from noise which jeopardizes health or welfare or unnecessarily degrades the quality of life.
It is declared policy of the Town to promote an environment free from excessive noise, otherwise properly called "noise pollution," which unnecessarily jeopardizes the health and welfare and degrades the quality of the lives of the residents of this community, without unduly prohibiting, limiting or otherwise regulating the function of certain noise-producing equipment which is not amenable to such controls and yet is essential to the quality of life in the community.
The purpose of this chapter is to establish standards for the control of noise pollution in the Town by setting maximum permissible sound levels for various activities to protect the public health, safety and general welfare.
This chapter may be cited as the "Noise Abatement Ordinance" of the Town.
This chapter shall apply to the control of all noise originating within the limits of the Town or originating from properties lying outside the limits of the Town owned or controlled by the Town, except where either:
A state or federal agency has adopted a different standard or rule than that prescribed in this chapter and has so preempted the regulation of noise from a particular source as to render this chapter inapplicable thereto; or
The Council has determined that, by reason of public acceptance of the activity producing a particular noise, such noise is deemed acceptable to the residents of the Town.
If the measurements of sound are made with a sound-level meter, it shall be an instrument in good operating condition and meeting the requirements of a Type I or Type II meter, as specified by ANSI Standard 1.4-1971. For purposes of this chapter, a sound-level meter shall contain at least an A-weighted scale and both fast and slow meter response capability.
If the measurements are made with other instruments, the procedure shall be carried out in such a manner that the overall accuracy is at least that called for in ANSI Standard 1.4-1971 for Type II instruments.
When the location or distance prescribed in this chapter for measurement of sound is impractical or would provide misleading or inaccurate results, measurements may be taken at other locations or distances using appropriate correction factors specified in this chapter.
Procedures and tests required by this chapter and not specified herein shall be placed on file with the Town Clerk.
Unless otherwise expressly stated or the context clearly indicates a different intention, the following words and terms shall have the meanings given. Definitions of technical terms used in this chapter, which are not herein defined, shall be obtained from publications of acoustical terminology issued by ANSI or its successor body.
The noise associated with a given environment, exclusive of a particular noise being tested, being usually a composite of sounds from many sources near and far, exclusive of intruding noises from isolated identifiable sources.
The American National Standards Institute or its successor body.
The sound level in decibels measured using the A-weighted network as specified in ANSI Standard 1.4-1971 for sound-level meters. The level is designated dB(A) or dBA.
Any and all activity necessary or incidental to the erection, assembly, alteration, installation, repair or equipment of buildings, roadways or utilities, including land clearing, grading, excavating and filling.
A logarithmic and dimensionless unit of measure often used in describing the amplitude of sound, equal to 20 times the logarithm to the base 10 of the ratio of the pressure of the sound measured to the reference pressure, which is 20 micropascals (20 micronewtons per square meter).
Any dismantling, intentional destruction or removal of structures, utilities, public or private right-of-way surfaces or similar property.
A building or portion thereof regularly used for residential occupancy.
Work made necessary to restore property to a safe condition following a public calamity, work to restore public utilities or work required to protect persons or property from imminent exposure to danger.
Sound of short duration, usually less than one second, with an abrupt onset and rapid decay. Examples of sources of impulsive sound include explosions, drop-forge impacts and the discharge of firearms.
Any area, tract or parcel of land owned by or under the lawful control of one distinct ownership. Abutting platted lots under the same ownership shall be considered a lot. The lot line or boundary is an imaginary line at ground level which separates a lot and its vertical extension owned by one person from that owned by another.
See "watercraft."
Any motor vehicle having a saddle or seat for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground. The term shall include motorized bicycles, motor scooters, mopeds and the like.
Any motor-operated vehicle licensed for use on the public highways, but not including a motorcycle.
Sound characterized by normal listeners as having a predominant pitch or series of pitches; sound described by such listeners as "whine," "hiss," "toot" or "wail"; or a sound whose frequencies occupy an octave band or less.
Any sound which exceeds the dBA level for such sound set out in this chapter; the making, creation or permitting of any unreasonably loud, disturbing or unnecessary noise; or the making, creating or permitting of any noise of such character, intensity or duration as to be detrimental to the life, health or welfare of any individual, or which either steadily or intermittently annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, peace or safety of any individual.
Any motor vehicle, including road vehicles, but excepting watercraft, used off public roads for recreational purposes.
Any individual, association, partnership or corporation, including any officer, department, bureau, agency or instrumentality of the United States, a state or any political subdivision of a state, including the Town.
The steady, impulsive or narrow band property of a sound, the level of the sound and the extent to which it exceeds the background sound level.
Any sound for which the information content is unambiguously communicated to the listener, such as, but not limited to, understandable spoken speech, comprehension of whether a voice is raised or normal or comprehensible rhythms.
Any self-propelled airborne, waterborne or landborne model plane, vessel or vehicle which is not designed to carry persons, including, but not limited to, any model airplane, boat, car or rocket.
Any street, avenue, highway, boulevard, alley, easement or public space which is owned by or controlled by a public governmental entity.
Any real property, including any structure thereon, which is owned or controlled by a governmental entity.
Any sound which can be distinctly heard as a single pitch or set of single pitches.
An imaginary line along the ground surface, and its vertical extension, which separates the real property owned by one person from that owned by another person, but not including intrabuilding real property divisions.
The use or occupancy of the property which receives the transmission of sound.
Any property on which is located a building or structure used wholly or partially for living or sleeping purposes.
An oscillation in pressure, particle displacement, particle velocity or other physical parameter, in a medium with internal forces that causes compression and rarefaction of that medium. The description of sound may include any characteristic of such sound, including duration, intensity and frequency.
The weighted sound-pressure level obtained by the use of a sound-level meter and frequency weighting network, such as A, B or C, as specified in ANSI specifications for sound-level meters (ANSI Standard 1.4-1971, or the latest approved revision thereof). If the frequency weighting employed is not indicated, the A-weighting shall apply.
An instrument which includes a microphone, amplifier, RMS detector, integrator or time averager, output or display meter, and weighting networks, used to measure sound-pressure levels, which complies with ANSI Standard 1.4-1971.
The instantaneous difference between the actual pressure and the average or barometric pressure at a given point in space, as produced by sound energy.
Twenty times the logarithm to the base 10 of the ratio of the RMS sound pressure to the reference pressure of 20 micronewtons per square meter (20 x 10-6N/M2). The sound-pressure level is denoted "Lp" or "SPL" and is expressed in decibels.
A sound whose level remains essentially constant (+/-2 dBa) during the period of the sound-level meter.
The Town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, or the area within the territorial limits of the Town, and such territory outside of the Town over which the Town has jurisdiction or control by virtue or ownership or any constitutional or Charter provision or any law.
Include the words "intended, designed or arranged to be" (used or occupied).
Any contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation or recreation on water.
Those districts established in the Zoning Ordinance and indicated on the Official Zoning Map or in the Zoning Ordinance.[1]
Editor's Note: See Ch. 405, Zoning.
The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to:
The emission of sound for the purpose of alerting persons to the existence of an emergency;
The emission of sound in the performance of emergency work;
Noncommercial pubic speaking and public assembly activities conducted on any private property, public space or public right-of-way, except those activities controlled by § 257-11;
The unamplified human voice, except those activities controlled by § 257-9;
Agricultural activities, exclusive of those involving the ownership or possession of animals or birds;
The emission of sound in the performance of military operations, exclusive of travel by individuals to or from military duty;
The emission of sound in the discharge of weapons between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.;
The emission of sound in the discharge of fireworks displays licensed by the Town between the hours of 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. only, except with special permission granted by the Town Council;
[Amended 7-9-2007 by Ord. No. 2007-07-09]
The emission of sound in the operation of snow removal equipment;
The emission of sound relative to permitted construction and demolition activities, provided that such activities do not occur between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.; and
The emission of sound relative to the operation of yard or lawn maintenance equipment or machinery, provided such activities do not occur between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. the following day.
No person shall make, continue or cause to be made or continued, except as permitted, any noise or sound which constitutes a noise disturbance, as defined in this chapter.
With the exception of sound levels elsewhere specifically authorized or allowed in this chapter, the following are the maximum permissible sound levels allowed at or within the real property boundary of a receiving land use:
Table I
Maximum Sound Levels by Receiving Land Use
Location of Receiving Land Use
Sound Limit
Zoning district:
Residential and Open Space
7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
Commercial and Waterfront
At all times
Light and Heavy Industrial
At all times
Public water
At all times
For any source of sound which emits a pure tone, the maximum sound-level limits set forth hereinabove shall be reduced by five dBA.
Exceptions to Table I are activities covered by the following sections: §§ 257-8, 257-11, 257-12, 257-14 and 257-18.
No person shall operate or permit the intentional sounding outdoors of any fire, burglar or civil defense alarm, siren, whistle or similar stationary emergency signaling device, except for emergency purposes or for testing, as provided in Subsection B hereof.
Testing of a stationary emergency signaling device shall occur at the same time of day each time the test is performed or at such other time as may be permitted by the Police Department or Fire Department, but not before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. Any such testing shall use only the minimum cycle test time. In no case shall the test time exceed 60 seconds.
Sales by hawking or barking. No person shall create a noise disturbance by offering for sale or selling anything by shouting or outcry across a real property boundary.
Vehicle or motorboat repairs or testing. No person shall create a noise disturbance by repairing, rebuilding, modifying or testing any motor vehicle, motorcycle or motorized watercraft.
Powered model vehicles. No person shall create a noise disturbance by operating or permitting the operation of a powered model vehicle in a public or private space out of doors between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. the following day.
Revelry. No person shall yell, shout, hoot, whistle, sing or make or cause to be made any other noise on the public streets between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. of the following day, or at any other time or place, so as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of any person in any hospital, dwelling, hotel or other type of residence or of any person in the vicinity.
Fireworks. Notwithstanding the provisions of § 257-5H, no person shall create a noise disturbance by the emission of sound in the discharge of fireworks, unless said person shall be duly licensed by the appropriate state and local authority.
No person shall operate, play or permit the operation or playing of any drum, musical instrument or similar device which produces sound in such a manner as to create a noise disturbance across a residential real property boundary.
Except for activities open to the public and for which a permit and a noise variance have been issued by the Town, no person shall operate, play or permit the operation or playing of any radio, television, phonograph or other sound-amplifying equipment so as to create a noise disturbance.
No person shall operate the engine providing motive power, or any auxiliary engine, of a motor vehicle with a manufacturer's gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more for a consecutive period longer than 20 minutes while such vehicle is standing and located within 150 feet of property zoned and used for residential purposes, except where such vehicle is standing within a completely enclosed structure. This section shall not apply to delivery or pickup vehicles that require the operation of the engine to unload or load their vending loads.
No person shall operate, within the speed limits specified in this section, either a motor vehicle or a combination of vehicles of a type subject to registration at any time or under any condition of grade, load, acceleration or deceleration in such a manner as to exceed the noise limit listed in Table II for the category of motor vehicle, based on the legal speed limit, posted or not, of the road or way on which such vehicle or vehicles are operated. Such noise shall be measured at a distance of not more than 50 feet from the center line of travel under test procedures established by Subsection C hereof. If the distance of the measuring instrument from the center line of travel is less than 50 feet, such listed noise limits shall be corrected to reflect the equivalent noise limits for the actual distance.
Table II
Noise Limit in Relation to Legal Speed Limit
Type of Vehicle
35 mph or Less
Over 35 mph
Any motor vehicle with a manufacturer's gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more and any combination of vehicles towed by such motor vehicle
Any motorcycle
Any other motor vehicle and any combination of motor vehicles towed by such motor vehicle
This section applies to the total noise from a vehicle or combination of vehicles and shall not be construed as limiting or precluding the enforcement of any other provision of any laws relating to motor vehicle muffler or noise control.
The measurement of sound or noise shall be made with a sound-level meter meeting the standards prescribed by ANSI. The instrument shall be maintained in calibration and good working order. A calibration check shall be made of the system at the time of any noise measurement. Measurements recorded shall be taken so as to provide a prior representation of the noise source. The microphone during measurements shall be positioned so as not to create any unnatural enhancement or diminution of the measured noise. A windscreen for the microphone shall be used when required. Traffic, aircraft and other transportation noise sources shall be noted and adjustments made so that these and other background noise do not interfere with the primary noise being measured.
Every motor vehicle and motorcycle shall at all times be equipped with a muffler in good working order and in constant operation to prevent noise which exceeds the dBA levels set forth in Table II. No person shall use a muffler cutout, bypass or similar device upon a motor vehicle on a highway.
No person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle or motorcycle by installation of a muffler or bypass, and no person shall operate a motor vehicle or motorcycle which has been so modified.
No person shall operate a recreational vehicle or permit the operation of one or more recreational vehicles, individually or in a group or in an organized racing event, on public or private property, in such a manner as to create a noise disturbance across a real property boundary.
Motorized watercraft shall be governed by the sound levels set forth in Table I. Every motorized watercraft shall be equipped with a muffler in good working order and constant operation to prevent noise which exceeds the dBA level set forth in Table I for public water.
No person shall operate or permit the operation of any tool or equipment in construction, drilling or demolition work, or in preventive maintenance work for public service utilities, which creates a noise disturbance across a residential real property boundary.
This section shall not apply to:
Emergency work or repair work performed by and for governmental entities or public service utilities; or
Work for which a variance has been obtained from Council.
The use of domestic power tools or equipment is subject to the noise levels set forth in Table I.
Properly permitted construction and/or demolition activities are allowed between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. each day.
No person shall operate or permit the sounding of any stationary bell, chime, siren, whistle or similar device, intended primarily for nonemergency purposes, from any place, for more than one minute in any one hour.
Devices used in conjunction with places of religious worship shall be exempt from the operation of this section.
Exemptions for sound sources covered by this section, but not exempted under § 257-13B, may be granted by Council under the procedure set forth in § 257-18.
The owner, possessor or keeper of any animal or bird shall be deemed to have violated this chapter if such animal or bird frequently or for a continued duration emits sound that is natural to the species, which sound exceeds the dBA level set forth in Table I.
This chapter shall be implemented, administered and enforced by the Police Department.
The provisions of this chapter which prohibit a person from making or continuing noise disturbances, or causing the same to be made or continued, across a real property boundary or within a noise sensitive area shall be enforced by the Police Department.
To implement and enforce this chapter, the Police Department shall have the power to:
Conduct research, monitoring and other studies related to sound;
Conduct programs of public education regarding the causes, effects and general methods of abatement and control of noise, as well as the actions prohibited by this chapter and the procedures for reporting violations;
Coordinate the noise control activities of all Town departments;
Review public and private projects, including those subject to mandatory review or approval by other departments, for compliance with this chapter, if these projects are likely to cause sound in violation of this chapter;
Issue sound variances granted pursuant to § 257-18.
Whenever a violation of this chapter occurs and two or more persons are present in or on the lot from which the sound emanates, and it is impossible to determine which of such persons is the violator, the owner of the lot, if present, shall be presumed responsible for the violation. In the absence of such owner, the tenant or tenants of such lot or any person present with the direct consent of the owner shall be held responsible for the violation.
In the case of continuing violations, the Town Solicitor may institute an action for injunctive relief against the owner and/or tenant of the lot.
All departments and agencies of the Town shall carry out their programs in furtherance of the policies set forth in this chapter.
Council shall have the authority, consistent with this section, to grant sound variances from this chapter after public hearing.
Any person seeking a sound variance under this section shall file an application with Council. The application shall contain information which demonstrates that bringing the source of sound or activity for which the sound variance is sought into compliance with this chapter would constitute an unreasonable hardship on the applicant, on the community or on other persons.
All applications shall be subject to an application fee of $100 and an amount sufficient to cover the cost of advertising and notification to all residents and property owners within 100 feet of the noise source. Advertisement shall be made at least once, seven days prior to the public hearing, in a newspaper of general circulation in the Town. Notification shall be by regular mail at least seven days prior to the public hearing.
[Amended 7-11-2016 by Ord. No. 2016-07-11]
In determining whether to grant or deny an application, or revoke a variance previously granted, Council shall balance the hardship to the applicant, the community and other persons, if the sound variance is not allowed, against the adverse impact on the health, safety and welfare of persons affected, the adverse impact on property affected, and any other adverse impact, if the sound variance is allowed. Applicants for sound variances and persons contesting sound variances may be required to submit any information that Council may reasonably require. In granting or denying an application or in revoking a sound variance previously granted, Council shall place on public file a copy of the decision and the reasons for granting, denying or revoking the sound variance.
Sound variances shall be granted by notice to the applicant containing all necessary conditions, including a time limit on the permitted activity. The sound variance shall not become effective until all conditions are agreed to by the applicant. Noncompliance with any condition of the sound variance shall terminate it and subject the person holding it to those provisions of this chapter regulating the source of sound or activity for which the sound variance was granted.
Determination of modification of a granted variance shall be made in accordance with the rules and procedures set forth in the section for original applications.
Violation of this chapter shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $100 and/or imprisonment for not more than 30 days.
Holders of alcoholic beverage licenses.
In addition to any other penalty set forth herein, any holder of a Class A, B, B Ltd., C or D liquor license who shall be cited for violation of the provisions of this chapter twice within a period of six months shall, upon complaint by the Police Department to the Town Council sitting as a Board of License Commissioners, be summoned to appear before the Board to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against said license holder for violation of state or local laws, ordinances or regulations.
The license holder shall be served with a notice of the date, time and place of any such hearing.
The license holder has the right to be present at any such hearing, to be represented by counsel if he/she so chooses, to cross-examine witnesses and to present sworn testimony on his or her own behalf.
After hearing, the Board may, if it finds that a violation has occurred, take disciplinary action against the license holder, including, but not limited to, suspension and/or revocation of the license.