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Quiet death for noise ordinance

Selectmen support use of fund for playground improvements

May 22, 2013
BETHLEHEM — With a much smaller crowd than the first hearing, the selectmen unanimously voted to kill the proposed noise ordinance on Monday evening. The controversial nine page document was seen as town overreach by many residents.

On April 29 several residents spoke against the proposed ordinance. The selectmen did not take action at this first hearing, but announced plans for a second to hear additional comment.

At Monday's hearing, resident Bill Symonds provided the most input. He informed the board of research he conducted on other towns' noise policies. Symonds said Littleton did not have such an ordinance, while Franconia's noise ordinance was less than two pages. Other towns that had ordinances, Symonds suggested, usually focused on unnecessary vehicle noise.

The now defunct Bethlehem proposal went much farther than that. The document would have allowed residents to call the police with general noise complaints. A violator faced as much as a $1,000 fine.

A major theme from the first hearing was repeated Monday night. Commenters said that noise problems can generally be worked out between neighbors. Development of extensive town rules, especially when a large fine could be involved, proved too much for most people in Bethlehem.

The selectmen quickly agreed. After a motion and limited discussion among members, all five voted against adoption of the nine-page proposal.

Also on Monday, the board received an update on the town playground. The facility was closed earlier this year after selectmen were informed of several dangers at the facility, located just north of the town hall.

Recent work removed the slide, merry-go-round, and another playset. These items failed to meet current safety standards in a report the town received last year.

Recreation Director Rhienna Miscio recently received quotes from several vendors on replacement equipment. The amount of funding she recommended to the board was $16,530.

After some research, the selectmen focused on a 2006 warrant article that created a reserve fund. The article put $20,000 in a capital reserve for a town pool/recreation "facility."

Some dissent was heard when the board considered using that fund to provide Miscio with the recommended playground upgrade dollars. Selectman Mark Fiorentino believed the warrant article language did not contemplate playground equipment as an eligible expense. "When I hear the word facility," Fiorentino said, "I'm thinking building."

Board member Sandy Laleme disagreed. She recalled working on the 2006 article. She said that the language was meant to cover general town recreation needs, and the funds could be used on items other than buildings. As Laleme suggested, "A playground is a facility for recreation."

After additional discussion, other board members sided with this idea. With Fiorentino opposed, the selectmen voted 4 to 1 to take $16,530 out of the 2006 reserve fund for the new playground equipment.

On a related matter, the board discussed a potential future relocation of the playground. This is deemed a safety issue because the playground is next to the fire station. Selectman Mike Culver, who brought up the issue, said any move will not be in the immediate future.

For now, the selectmen and Miscio said they hoped the new equipment will be ready for summer at the current site. In order to further address the inspector's suggestions, wood chips will make a softer playground surface. The inspector's report noted that falls are a leading cause of injuries on playgrounds. Miscio said the chips will be nine inches thick.

Some drainage work is planned before the wood chips and new equipment help bring the playground back to life.

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