By Scott Goldstein Asbury Park Press March 8, 1998

Ice cream, they scream, is too noisy

"Stafford Township's ban on Ice cream truck music may be only the beginning of a statewide trend of noise-regulating laws."


        Stafford Township's attempt to keep the peace led to clamor last week.
        Its ban of ice cream truck music - a virtual tradition of spring and summer - made news in nationally circulated newspapers, on CNN, New York television outlets and, of course, talk radio.
        Everyone had an opinion, it seemed. The consensus: "What kind of scrooges are anti-ice cream?"
        "It's not the response I wanted," acknowledged Mayor Carl W. Block, who cast the deciding vote Tuesday to ban the music. "David Navarro from channel 7 (New York) had a good quote. He said if this is making us look silly, at least it's a harmless silly. Would we rather have New York media here for a crime, rape and corruption, or an ice cream truck?"
        Although yesterday ended the southern Ocean County township's week in the national news, it may be only the beginning of a statewide trend of noise-regulating laws, according to Eric Zwerling, director of the Rutgers Noise Technical Assistance Center, New Brunswick.
        "Communities across New Jersey and across the U.S. are awakening to the fact that they are no longer powerless in the face of noise pollution," Zwerling said.
        Noise from stationary sources, such as night clubs and factories, is easy to control with all-encompassing noise ordinances that limit decibel levels. Increasing incidents of aircraft, routine motor vehicle and train noise, meanwhile, are frequently the subject of complaints in suburban New Jersey, but they are exempted from noise laws, Zwerling said.
        Harder to control sources - such as home and car stereos - are suburbia's next target, he said.
        The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Rutgers noise center last year drew up a model ordinance that towns could adopt to help curb noise from stereos.
        Under such an ordinance, local enforcement officials can use their own sense of hearing to identify and cite offenders, instead of relying on a complicated sound level meter that was necessary under a previous ordinance.
        "If the noise is plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet, it would be a violation," Zwerling explained. Officers would be required to take a three-hour workshop on how to properly enforce the law, he said.
        Individual towns must notify the DEP that they have passed such an ordinance.
        Zwerling could not say how many municipalities had adopted the ordinance, but he said there have been 400 to 500 requests for the information from town officials, chiefs of police and municipal attorneys.
        Plus, there is a bill in the state Assembly that would allow, for the first time, communities to set decibel level would first have to decide which noise sources to include in their proposed ordinances, he said.
        Zwerling could not say how many municipalities had adopted the ordinance, but he said there have been 400 to 500 requests for the information from town officials, chiefs of police and municipal attorneys.
        "Noise is a pollutant that affects people's health as much as air pollution and water pollution and should be treated...as seriously," Zwerling said.
        But is the regulation of music from ice cream trucks taking it too far?
        Block wants to clarify that neither he nor the council are "anti-ice cream," a phrase many town officials said they now have to live down.
        The mayor says he's in favor of ice cream trucks in the township, as long as their operators announce their presence with hand-held bells, not music.
        He said the council was addressing the concerns of a "significant number" of Stafford residents - no exact figure has been given - who consider the ice cream trucks' amplified loop of music an annoyance akin to aircraft noise or a dog barking.
        "I haven't called the police department to complain, but that doesn't mean I haven't been disturbed (by ice cream truck music) during dinner." Said Tom Fagan, a resident who said he represents "the silent majority." "It's an ice cream truck's privilege to conduct their business in a residential neighborhood, and over the years we have allowed ice cream trucks to come in. But it's a private citizen's right, not privilege, to say enough is enough."
        Stafford Township has six licensed ice cream trucks; four play music, and two ring bells. At least one truck has an amplified voice that periodically bellows "Hello!" a publicity technique that was particularly criticized during the public hearing before Tuesday's 4-to2 vote to ban the music.
        Township Councilwoman Jeanne DiPaola cast one of the dissenting votes. She prefers better enforcement of Stafford's noise ordinance, which limits volume to 65 decibels, a level that does not drown out conversation.
        DiPaola said there have been a number of quality-of-life issues considered in Stafford in recent years, including a leash requirement for cats (never implemented), a ban of basketball hoops on driveways (implemented on busy streets only) and now ice cream truck music.
        "Having pet owners, playing basketball and ice cream trucks playing songs is more important than having total silence with no laughter and no musical sounds," she said. "Silence is not quality of life to me. That's dead, and I just don't like it."
       

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