URBANA — City officials could have an extra tool against sound like that coming from the Solo Cup plant if the Urbana City Council continues to support an ordinance change it was presented on Monday.
The proposed change to the city law does not single out the plant, which lies behind a residential neighborhood at 1505 E. Main St. But it does create regulations on "mechanical stationary noise" and prescribes a plan for officials to deal with it.
For years, the Solo Cup plant has drawn complaints from nearby residents, who say they are bothered by the industrial noise around the clock.
"The Solo Cup situation opened our eyes to the fact that our ordinance, the way it's written right now, is not very easy to use," Urbana planning manager Robert Myers said.
Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5, said it appears that the owners of the Solo Cup plant are working on reducing noise levels after about two years' worth of complaints and a lot of city involvement. But still, the new ordinance will provide an extra safeguard.
"I think if it hadn't been for the constant complaints that have been given to that industry, there would be a lot less progress," Roberts said.
Industrial noise presents a problem for the city because the law is not set up well to deal with it, Myers said. With "loud and raucous" noise, like that which comes from a party, police can tell partiers to quiet down. If the noisy residents don't respond to an initial warning, police can issue a ticket on their second visit.
But with industrial noise, it's a bit more complicated.
"It's not like they're just turning off a switch and stopping the noise," Myers said.
In the case of industrial noise, the new ordinance would allow city officials to force a property owner to come up with a plan to reduce sound levels after that property receives a noise complaint. Officials would also require the property owner to set a reasonable timeline for doing so.
"Mechanical stationary noise" would apply to more than just industrial noise. If a resident's air conditioner is broken and loud, the proposed ordinance could apply there, said city planner Jeff Engstrom.
The new ordinance would require that daytime mechanical noise be no louder than 60 decibels, which is comparable to the sound of conversational speech. At night, the noise would not be allowed to exceed 55 decibels.
The proposed ordinance also would allow construction activities to begin one hour earlier. Right now, outdoor construction involving power equipment within 600 feet of a residence cannot begin before 8 a.m. That would drop to 7 a.m. in the new ordinance.
"Roofers in particular, in the middle of summer, it can be dangerously hot working up on a roof," Myers said. "The earlier you start, the safer it can be for people working in the construction industry."