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Sounds of summer silence



Published: Sat, July 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Homeowners are finding ways, good and bad, to deal with neighbor noise.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Booming car stereos. Barking dogs. Loud mufflers.

Ahhh, the sounds of summer.

From cities to suburbs, there's a common thread to hot-weather living: noise.

Sure, there's clatter all year round.

However, with windows open, children home from school, and more daylight to mow grass after dinner, now is the noisy season.

Blame it on a lot of factors. Cars are equipped with better and louder sound systems. Yards are closer together. And workers often hammer away in new subdivisions while neighbors sleep.

And some residents are clueless -- or selfish.

Whatever the reason, noise seems to bring out the best and worst in people.

Silent Sunday

On Meade Bradshaw's street in a south Charlotte, N.C., subdivision, several neighbors adhere to an unofficial rule: no motorized noises on Sunday.

No running lawnmowers and weed whackers. No scheduling landscapers to come by that day. Leave Sundays to quiet yard chores, like gardening.

Bradshaw said the idea bubbled up on his block two years ago. A neighbor had just sat down to a family birthday lunch on his deck when someone revved up a leafblower.

At the neighbor's request, the guy turned off his leafblower and apologized. Bradshaw said that got folks talking about having at least one quiet day to count on.

He said folks will even mow a neighbor's grass if they know that family is out of town and won't return until no-noise Sunday.

It helps keep the peace.

Here a noise, there a noise ...

Constant intrusions

Doug Pressley of east Charlotte wishes he was so lucky. The past year has been the noisiest he has heard in the 45 years he's lived on his street.

The roar from illegal mufflers, designed to make cars sound faster, are "waking the dead," Pressley said. At a nearby apartment complex, horn-blowing taxis arrive between 5 and 7 a.m. And don't get him going on those car stereos.

"When some of these cars pull up besides you at a red light, it rocks your car, it's so loud."

RoseAnne Sanders once loved the sounds of cows and chickens outside her rural Huntersville, N.C., home.

These days, she wakes up with plugs in her ears to block out barking dogs.

"This is a really tough time of year because it's nice out and we want to keep the windows open while sleeping, but it's too loud," Sanders said.

Gerald Williams lives in a University City, N.C., neighborhood with small adjoining backyards and homes built close together. He doesn't understand why a neighbor spends two hours, two evenings a week, mowing, then blowing cuttings to the curb. Williams thinks noisy home projects should end at 7 p.m. -- but doesn't tell his neighbors that, since he had words with them once about sprinklers.

"We do speak and wave now," Williams said, "but I don't spend any time talking to them."

Who's to blame, and why?

Distant neighbors

In today's communities, many residents are too busy or transient to even socialize with neighbors -- let alone face them about a potentially touchy issue like noise.

"You have suburban areas popping up quickly, and people live there three years and then move somewhere else," said Owen Furuseth, head of the metropolitan studies department at UNC Charlotte. "I'm not sure you have that sense of community that translates into certain norms and behaviors that existed in the past."

When neighbors stay strangers, stereotypes become the easy way to explain behaviors. So homeowners blame renters for noise. Or longtime residents call young people inconsiderate. Or residents of any generation and economic class point to other races and cultures for loud activities.

Many times, calling 911 to report noise problems is warranted, police say. However, trying to work things out before involving police can help neighbors avoid lingering hard feelings, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Tom Ferguson, community coordinator for the north division.

"We don't want to go back to the Hatfield and McCoy days, neighbor versus neighbor," said Ferguson, referring to the nation's infamous feuding families.

The direct approach

Some residents say it pays to speak up about noise and try to handle situations directly -- even if it takes more than one conversation.

David Watson moved 10 years ago to old farmland in Midland, in Cabarrus County, N.C., for peace and quiet. When an elementary school went up nearby, noise from the public address system followed.

It took numerous phone calls and faxes -- first to the school, then to county officials -- to get volumes cut down on class bells, and outside speakers redirected.

There's no simple solution, which leaves many neighbors weighing options.

For Detra Cureton, the direct approach worked.

Cureton thought about calling 911 when nearby construction workers continued pouring cement at 1 a.m. recently in her northwest Charlotte townhome community.

Although she was afraid to go outside and talk to the workers herself, she did so anyway -- believing that calling the police seemed extreme. The workers quickly stopped the project and left after Cureton spoke up.

Solutions are as varied as situations and neighbors. For every success story, there's probably a noisy nightmare.

So until the days get shorter and people start spending more time inside, neighbors will be trying to find the best way to keep the peace ... and quiet.




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