A Gentler Limit on Contractor Noise

East Hampton Village yields to tradesmen's concerns, but moves ahead with new rules too
East Hampton Village had considered prohibiting construction before 9 a.m., for noise reasons, but, heeding contractors' concerns, decided to continue to allow a 7 a.m. start. Durell Godfrey

     A toll-free telephone number at which residents could register complaints about construction and landscaping noise was one outcome of the East Hampton Village Board's ongoing discussions on restricting the offending activities.

     At its meeting last Thursday, the East Hampton Village Board moved closer to reducing the hours in which construction and landscaping work could be done, and continued to debate restrictions on parking in municipal lots. But a hearing on the former debate was closed and reopened after representatives from the affected industries pressed for clarification of the proposed new rules.

     Barbara Borsack, the deputy mayor, said that she, Richard Lawler, another board member, and Becky Molinaro, the village administrator, had met the day before with representatives of the construction and landscaping industries and the Village Preservation Society. At the meeting, which she described as "very constructive," it was agreed that construction and landscaping work must conclude by 6 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. on Saturdays between June 1 and Sept. 15. Such work by anyone other than a tenant or homeowner is prohibited on Sundays. It was also agreed that radios would be banned from work sites.

     The starting date in which the restrictions would be in effect was moved from May 15 to June 1 "so they could get through Memorial Day, because that's when the big push is to get everything done," Ms. Borsack said.

     A 7 a.m. start time for construction on weekdays was allowed to stand, as representatives of the industries insisted it was essential. "They felt it would be a huge hardship to start at 9," as the board initially proposed, Ms. Borsack said.

     Regarding commercial use of gas or diesel-powered landscaping equipment, the board proposed a start time of 8 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays from June 1 through the second Friday in December, the latter date coinciding with the conclusion of the village's leaf pickup service.

     "We talked about decibel levels," Ms. Borsack said. "We talked about phasing in new equipment for leaf blowers. I think that's going to take some investigation on our part. . . . We may want to make that a separate issue."

     Joe Morgano of Power Equipment Plus, which sells and repairs landscaping and construction equipment, told the board that Stihl, a manufacturer of such equipment, "is working with me, and they work with other towns and cities across the country, to help with this problem." Mr. Morgano also suggested that landscape companies "need to train their help." A handheld leaf blower, he said, is quieter than those incorporating a backpack and should be used for smaller jobs, for example.

     Margaret Turner of the East Hampton Business Alliance applauded the institution of a hotline for complaints. "That's important to hear the data," she said, "and get some statistics as to where the problems are, perhaps help the village focus in on where the problems lie."

     Kathy Cunningham, speaking on behalf of the Village Preservation Society, told the board that homeowners have to do their part in policing the noise issue. "This can only work collaboratively if there's a functioning hotline, and homeowners need to understand that they need to hire contractors that are observing these rules and regulations."

     "We'll go through the mechanics to get that in place," Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said of the telephone hotline, "and to make appropriate notification to the public."

     The hearing was closed, but later reopened when Michael Tuths, a landscaper, told the board that a group of his colleagues in attendance were still unclear on how the proposed legislation would affect them. How would the new rules apply to a landscaper who is building a patio, he asked. That is construction, Linda Riley, the village attorney, responded.

     Declan Blackmore of Summerhill Landscapes in Sag Harbor said that 70 percent of his business is construction. "I'm a landscape contractor, but we build gardens," he said.

     "Construction has a starting date and an ending date," Ms. Borsack said, "whereas landscaping is all the time . . . . Supposedly, if you're constructing a patio, it's going to be done, you're not going to be doing it week after week."

     "We're trying to reach agreement between those that don't want the noise and those that have to create some noise to do their work," Mr. Lawler told Mr. Blackmore. "We're not targeting landscapers, we're trying to target the problem."

     The board also continued to seek a solution to the shortage of parking in the village. Its most recent proposal would restrict parking in municipal lots to two hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. from May 1 through Dec. 31, and on Fridays, Saturdays, and federal holidays from Jan. 1 through April 30.

     Mayor Rickenbach asked Scott Fithian, the superintendent of public works, for input. Mr. Fithian suggested limiting parking in some or all of the spaces directly behind Village Hardware in the Barnes-Schenck lot to 15 or 30 minutes. "I've had a lot of people complain about getting into the hardware store," he said. Capt. Mike Tracey of the village police said that Chief Gerard Larsen had suggested imposing a 15-minute limit to the spaces adjacent to Waldbaum’s in the Reutershan lot.

     The board also discussed the efficacy of signs in the section of the Reutershan lot designating it exclusively for compact cars. Mary Anna Morris, general manager of the Ladies Village Improvement Society, told the board that, "As someone who is right there every day, that is absolutely not enforced." Sport utility vehicles, she said, regularly occupy spaces there. Many volunteers at the nearby L.V.I.S., she said, are senior citizens and have stated that they would not volunteer their time if they must park in the long-term lot near Lumber Lane during the winter months. "Please keep the local population's needs in mind," she said.

            The mayor said that the board should come up with a definition of a compact car. He asked Mr. Fithian to study that section of the Reutershan lot to see if it could be reconfigured so that the overall lot could accommodate more vehicles. "We have a finite number of parking spaces within the central commercial business core in the village," he said. "We're doing our best to deliver a product that works for everybody."