Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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Which is the bigger nuisance? A neighbor roaring his lawn mower in the middle of your tranquil dinner? Or a surprise visit from the local curmudgeon asking you to finish the grass later?

I’ve played both roles in my checkered history as a homeowner, but I’m appealing here to the better angels of our suburban nature.

Who among us hasn’t felt the press of a schedule and revved up the old Lawn-Boy just as the folks next door are settling down to their bowls of summer gazpacho?
But more often, to my wife’s mortification, I’m the volunteer enforcer of the rules that, ahem, are spelled out in the “frequently asked questions” on code enforcement on the Arlington County government’s website:

“Construction activities can begin at any time; however, there are noise limits by time of day for construction. The normal noise decibel level can be exceeded from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and legal holidays. This would include the use of power equipment and other activities.”

In theory, these mandates are designed to allow a gentle dweller such as I to bask in well-earned early-morning downtime during weekends and holidays. For me that means a sweet, four-course breakfast on the back porch, birds chirping, some soft ’50s doo-wop on the speaker, and fresh editions of the world’s greatest newspapers.

Should I not be a tad miffed if one of my neighbors chooses that moment to fire up his rented power washer or satanic leaf blower?

The problem is, few citizens seem aware of the time restrictions.

So I asked Gary Greene, section chief of Arlington’s Code Enforcement Inspection Service Division. He acknowledged there hasn’t been much effort to publicize the decibel-level-based rules laid out in code section 15.6. “In this urban environment, you can’t totally control it,” he says. “My idea of nighttime and daytime may be different from yours.”

The nuisance that bugs Arlingtonians most is construction noise. Our affluent community has changed from Mayberry to more like Manhattan, he says, and people spend a lot of dough maintaining their property. Being a good neighbor means telling crews with heavy equipment (and those mobile landscaping SWAT teams) that they must respect the hours, even though, yes, they have a living to make, and they too want to beat the rush hour home.

Complaints about abusers of small power equipment can be passionate. In the middle of 2010’s Snowmageddon, Greene recalls, he heard gripes about people using snow blowers in the middle of the night. (He made an exception and didn’t call in the enforcers.)

An astonishing 15 percent of beefs are retaliation complaints against neighbors who complained first. Noise policy in Northern Virginia is ahead of downstate and downtown in that people expect their complaints to be resolved, Greene said. “10 percent of Arlington is lawyers,” he says, so the county takes the educational approach, such as speaking to civic associations, which minimizes going to court.

For John Q. Publics who find their tranquility shattered, he recommends first using the soft approach of a civil conversation. (Would I speak any other way?)

Only if that fails should you resort to the police (the non-urgent phone number), Greene says. “This issue will be with us as long as the grass and shrubs are growing.”

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com

 

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