Williamsburg's demographic divide makes for interesting and sometimes contentious politics. Discrepancies between the lifestyles of student and non-student residents have long been reflected around the City's noise ordinance, a law that rightfully attempts to protect all residents from excessive noise disturbances.
Unfortunately, the current law goes overboard in trying to achieve these legitimate goals by disproportionately implementing it against students and excessively punishing arbitrary and subjectively-enforced noise limitations. This leads to many of the over 8,000 student residents feeling disenfranchised and targeted in the City they proudly call home for a crucial part of their lives.
Furthermore, the noise ordinance also impacts non-student residents. Under the current law, noise from everyday activities like children on playgrounds and home renovations runs the risk of causing confrontations and legal confusion. A better refined and defined ordinance would bring more legal clarity to the issue and would take a meaningful step in bridging the divide between the City and its student citizens.
Many inside and outside the City believe that the noise ordinance is a non-issue - that there is not enough interest in seeing the law changed to justify expending the political capital necessary for real reform. Respectfully, they are wrong.
The StudentImpact, a non-partisan Political Action Committee on which I serve as Political Director, has sponsored a petition to City Council asking that the noise ordinance be amended. The petition, which received over 750 signatures and dozens of supportive comments in the first three days, calls for a set of moderate and common sense reforms. These reforms will guard against noise disturbances for non-student residents while also protecting student citizens from unnecessary legal penalties and harassment for noise that does not actually bother anyone, such as the numerous occasions of civil back porch conversations being issued $300 violations.
This petition's sizable support is proof that the noise ordinance does matter to many citizens. Student residents want their voices acknowledged and respected in their local government. The petition is not intended as an act of war against the City, where students blindly demand laws that exclusively cater to their interests. Rather, the petition serves as evidence that a problem exists and needs to be discussed. The StudentImpact seeks to work with the City constructively, using the petition's moderate recommendations as a starting point for an honest, open, and mature dialogue. We invite City Council to initiate a public hearing seeking to better understand how this law can more reasonably accommodate the preferences and lifestyles of all the City's residents.
Taking a step back from the tired and divisive dichotomy of students vs. non-students, these moderate changes will better serve the entire Williamsburg community. An improved ordinance would mitigate the risks of conflicts under the present law. A more flexible and accommodating ordinance will benefit all the City's residents while acknowledging the voices of over half the City's population.
Building a better and more harmonious community is the responsibility of all citizens: student and non-student. Let us work together in improving a law with legitimate intent, but whose real-world consequences continue to alienate and frustrate a significant portion of the City. Together, we can build a better Williamsburg.