Board turns down the volume on outdoor events
There's good news for neighbors of the Dakota County Fairgrounds. Chances are, things will be a little quieter in your neighborhood this summer.
On Tuesday, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve changes to the county's ordinance that regulates assemblages of large numbers of people. It doesn't necessarily mean an end to fair-time noises like demolition derby cars or carnival rides, but at least most nights will be kept to a dull roar.
Last summer, the city of Farmington started receiving quite a few noise complaints from residents who lived near the fairgrounds, but since the fairgrounds are technically located in Castle Rock Township, there was little the city could do but share reports with township and county officials.
"It's out of our jurisdiction," city administrator Peter Herlofsky said. "But we took all the calls from our residents. We received more in the way of noise issue complaints than anybody around here has remembered from before."
The summer in 2009 was a bit cooler than others had been, which meant many residents kept their windows open at night rather than closing them and turning on central air. That, too, may have played in to the problem, Herlofsky said. The fact there were more events out there than in the past probably added salt to the wound.
Whatever the cause, the complaints met the ears of Dakota County officials. And those complaints prompted them to look at an ordinance that, until Tuesday morning, hadn't been updated in nearly 30 years.
County commissioner Joe Harris, who represents Farmington as well as Castle Rock and Empire townships, said it was probably about time amendments were made to Ordinance No. 112, Regulating Assemblages of Large Numbers of People. When it was created back in the 1980s, there were far fewer people in Dakota County, and the demographics were quite different.
Perhaps the biggest change to the ordinance is the time of operation. The original ordinance allowed activities to go from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven nights a week. That was scaled back to 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays.
The ordinance also used to require organizers of a gathering to get a permit if there were going to be more than 500 people participating. Now, a permit is required for 300 people or more, and the organizers are required to sell tickets or have some other way of monitoring how many people are present.
"Whoever is proposing to have the event is going to have to track how many tickets are sold. There will have to be some way of checking the attendance, because, depending on the size of the crowd, there's going to have to be more licensed police officers - mainly Dakota County sheriff's deputies - required to keep the peace," Harris said.
While those deputies are at the event, they'll be monitoring the noise levels to make sure they don't exceed standards. Decibel levels can be monitored through use of a hand-held device.
The ordinance does not just apply to the fairgrounds. It covers all 13 townships in Dakota County, because the county oversees many of the rules and regulations in townships. Cities like Farmington have their own police forces, but the townships rely on the Dakota County Sheriff's Department. It just so happened most of the complaints county officials heard last summer were because of events at the fairgrounds.
"Every two or three years, we'd have an incident. Last year, it just seemed like we had three or four of them," Harris said. "I think we at the county are trying to be sympathetic to the neighborhood where the fairgrounds is.... There seem to be several activities that took place last summer and last fall that a fair number of citizens were upset with."
While the ordinance addresses noise levels at the fairgrounds for 51 weeks of the year, neighbors should still expect to hear the nightly mix of demo cars, crowds cheering and carnival music. The ordinance specifically states it does not apply to the Dakota County Fairgrounds during fair week.
The ordinance also does not apply to permanent structures like a church or auditorium constructed for assembly, or to family gatherings held on a family member's property.
Nor does it apply to noise complaints in incorporated city limits. In those cases, residents should contact city officials instead of county officials.
Finally, the ordinance does not apply to Dakota County parks. Harris said gates at most county parks are locked before 10 p.m., and, in any event, there are a separate set of ordinances that regulate what happens in the county parks.