After community complaints, Vienna opens up noise ordinance for review

Vienna Town Hall (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

At the urging of some residents and even a Fairfax County School Board member, Vienna is revisiting its noise rules, especially for businesses and other commercial sites.

The town last rewrote its noise ordinance came in 2011, but with sound issues becoming a growing source of tension between residents and businesses, the Vienna Town Council agreed on Monday (July 11) to initiate a new review — with no guarantee that anything will change.

Instead, the council directed staff to research best practices and regulations from other localities to determine whether the town should pursue any updates.

“We are not even at a point that we are suggesting there’s changes,” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “So, we may look at other jurisdictions and decide we like our noise ordinance the way it is…A conference session to review what the [police] chief and town attorney have come up with makes sense.”

Commercial Truck Noises Frustrate Residents

While possibly compounded by increased construction activities and pandemic-related changes, such as more people working from home, noise complaints aren’t a new trend for the Town of Vienna.

A resident of Park Street NE since 2019 told FFXnow that one of his neighbors has spent 20 years battling issues from Mill Street, a commercial strip that backs up to their houses. One business, the now-defunct Bey Lounge, had a live entertainment permit revoked in 2019 after multiple noise ordinance violations stretching back to 2016.

The resident, who asked not to be named out of fear that Vienna’s “small-town politics” could put “a scarlet letter on my name,” says he hears trucks pulling up to the Mill Street businesses every morning, sometimes as early as 3 or 4 a.m.

While he describes himself as a heavy sleeper, his kids reliably wake up whenever the noises begin, and he believes an inability to get a full eight hours of sleep contributed to developmental challenges his son started experiencing in early 2020, before COVID-19 arrived in the U.S.

Since he brought up his concerns to the town council in August 2021, the resident says the Vienna Police Department has done “a fantastic job” enforcing the existing noise rules, but commercial vehicle loading and unloading is allowed within 300 feet of a residence on weekdays except from 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. — a seven-hour stretch.

In comparison, Fairfax County allows truck loading and unloading within 100 feet of a residence starting at 6 a.m. but sets an evening cut-off of 9 p.m. Falls Church prohibits similar activities that cause a “noise disturbance” across a residential property line, and Fairfax City’s ban on “plainly audible noise” in residential areas is from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

“We’re not the only household or block that has issues with businesses starting too early, so I don’t think it’s asking too much for them to say 7 o’clock is a reasonable start time for businesses around here,” the resident said. “Why it’s 6 a.m., it doesn’t make sense to me.”

According to the resident, the Park Street NE neighborhood submitted a petition to the town council earlier this year advocating for the noise ordinance’s hours to be revised.

The residents have the backing of Melanie Meren, who represents the Hunter Mill District on the Fairfax County School Board and joined the residents at a meeting with the town council on March 16.

The school board revised Fairfax County Public Schools’ health and wellness policy on March 10 to emphasize the importance of sleep to the well-being of students and staff.

“Especially continuing to live through a pandemic that challenges physical, emotional, and mental health, getting proper rest in a tranquil environment is crucial for children’s development,” Meren told town leaders in an email she shared with FFXnow. “The Town has an opportunity to examine what it means to provide a healthy living environment in Vienna in our current times.”

Review Suggested After Outdoor Dining Complaints

While the Park Street residents have been particularly vocal, noise issues also emerged as the primary sticking point in Vienna’s debate over whether to permanently ease rules for outdoor dining.

The town council ultimately adopted regulations in May that forced Blend 111 and Bazin’s on Church in particular to eliminate their popular patios, a move that disappointed the restaurants’ owners.

Colbert said before that vote that noise is “one of the things we get probably the most complaints about,” and Councilmember Chuck Anderson suggested the town consider amending its ordinance.

Anderson introduced the proposal on Monday to initiate a review, noting that “the world has changed a bit” in the 11 years since the ordinance was last revised.

“There’s new measurement technology out there. There’s new noise abatement technology out there. All of these things, I think, we should take a look at,” he said. “We have a lot of residential complaints, so my idea is, okay, let’s look at it. Let’s see how we stack up against other places and see if there’s some innovative solutions to solve some problems, and that’s it.”