Church receives ticket for alleged noise violation

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 08:13 PM

Police on Wednesday gave south Durham’s newhope church a ticket that accuses it of violating the city’s noise ordinance.
The move followed months of back-and-forth between church leaders, city officials and neighbors who say the sounds of music from newhope’s services is penetrating their homes.
Durham Police Department spokeswoman Kammie Michael confirmed that a ticket had been issued to the church’s pastor, Benji Kelley. It addressed an alleged violation that occurred on Dec. 23.
Michael said she didn’t have a copy of the ticket and thus couldn’t say whether it accused the Fayetteville Road church of violating the ordinance’s decibel limit or a broader prohibition on unreasonable noise.
City Manager Tom Bonfield likewise said he didn’t know which leg of the ordinance the ticket addressed.
But Police Chief Jose Lopez previously relayed word that “there had been a couple of incidents right around the holidays and they [had] made the decision to go ahead and issue a citation,” Bonfield said.
The department’s move leaves it up to Acting District Attorney Leon Stanback to decide “whether to pursue it,” Bonfield added.
Church officials responded to the citation by releasing a statement, through lawyer Jay Ferguson, that said newhope is “fully compliant with the law,” though it continues “to try and work with our neighbors.”
“As a church family, we love our city and want to service everyone to the best of our ability, while at the same time fulfilling our purpose and vision for the church,” the statement said.
The neighbors’ lawyer, David McKenzie, said Wednesday his clients were pleased by the Police Department’s move.
“We trust that the city has taken its time to consider the evidence and to aggregate the evidence in order to complete a successful prosecution of repeated violations of a plainly enforceable statute,” McKenzie said.
Wednesday’s move came almost two months after City Attorney Patrick Baker reported to elected officials that a mediation between the church and its neighbors in the Hills at Southpoint subdivision had failed.
Baker’s Nov. 20 report prompted City Council members to say police were free to act on any renewed complaints.
Lopez earlier in November wrote Bonfield to say the situation had festered since 2010, prompting attempts by three different commanders of the patrol district that covers south Durham to resolve it.
The department had sought advice from the DA’s staff, which initially said it wouldn’t prosecute but later “changed its position” to say it would prosecute if officers issued a citation, Lopez said in a memo.
The neighbors, meanwhile, continued to push for action. McKenzie wrote Lopez earlier this month, telling the chief his clients doubted “that there would be such pause if this were anything other than a church.”
City officials for much of last year said police hadn’t cited newhope because officers’ noise measurements were coming in just below the legal decibel limit.
Emissions louder than 60 decibels – equivalent to the volume of the average human voice in normal conversation – as measured at the source’s property line are illegal from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. The limit drops to 50 decibels overnight.
Police commanders reported to the council in November that officers had twice measured sounds louder than the daytime limit, obtaining readings of 63 decibels and 62.7 decibels.
But neighbors obtained copies of a report from one officer, Marty Walkowe, who told District 3 commanders that on the morning of Nov. 4, he’d obtained noise readings that peaked as high as 72.2 decibels.
Walkowe wrote that he also could hear “bass music coming from the church” as he sat inside a windows-up police cruiser he’d parked on Eastcrest Court, a cul-de-sac in the Hills at Southpoint that’s adjacent to newhope.