Summit County commissioners place stricter limits on excessive noise exemptions as part of revisions to noise ordinance

The revisions, which go into effect immediately, served largely to clean up the existing decades-old ordinance. The biggest policy change was to cut how long residents can exceed noise limits from 15 minutes per hour to six.

Housing in the Wildernest area of unincorporated Summit County is pictured on Jan. 2, 2022. Under new rules approved by county commissioners, the limited period for noise exceptions to the county's noise ordinance have been reduced from 15 minutes every hour to six.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News archive

The Summit Board of County Commissioners, during an April 25 meeting, voted to reduce the time for how long residents can exceed the county’s noise limit as part of a larger effort to clean up its noise ordinance.

The ordinance, which hasn’t been updated in more than two decades, was adjusted to remove outdated language and make it easier for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to enforce, according to Assistant County Attorney Cameron Turpin. 

That included removing a provision that applies to vehicles operating on private property or public property that is not a road, something Turpin has called “unnecessary.” It also provides greater clarity around exemptions for areas like sport shooting ranges and commercial activities that acquire county-issued permits. 

Ski areas, such as Copper Mountain Resort and its base, are completely exempt from the county’s noise limits. But individual residents can still hold those areas accountable for perceived excessive noise in accordance with state statute, according to Turpin. 

But after discussing these amendments in meetings over the past month, commissioners’ biggest policy change — made minutes before the final vote — was to cut the time in half for which residents can temporarily exceed noise limits.

This applies to instances where residents may need to violate the noise level in their area for a limited amount of time, such as “if someone’s cutting wood, for example, or someone’s starting a tractor,” said Commissioner Josh Blanchard.

“Generally speaking, if it wasn’t being abused, that seems like most neighbors … would be okay with it,” Blanchard said. 

“If there was a situation where it was becoming repetitive or it was becoming abused,” residents could report it to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Blanchard added. 

County staff had proposed allowing noise limits in different designated areas — residential, commercial, light industrial and industrial — to be exceed for no more than 15 minutes each hour from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There would also be a 45-minute interval between those 15-minute exceptions. 

In residential areas, noise cannot exceed 55 decibels between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., according to the ordinance. That’s a noise comparable to a dishwasher or normal conversation, according to a decibel comparison chart from the American Academy of Audiology.

The ordinance allows that noise to be exceeded by up to 10 decibels for 15-minutes each hour, bringing it to 65 decibels. That’s akin to more elevated noise, such as a busy business office or consistent laughter, according to Yale University

Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence voiced support for changing that exemption in an effort to be considerate of unincorporated county residents who may have “noisy neighbors.”

“Have you ever lived next door to a noisy neighbor? I did one time, and it was so awful,” Lawrence said.

But commissioners also voiced a need to strike balance between residents’ comfort and noise flexibility based on needs.

County resident Toni Napolitano, speaking during the meeting’s public comment period, said she had “a lot of concerns” around the exemption and asked commissioners to repeal it all together. Napolitano said she has had chronic issues with excessive noise from a neighbor and wants the county’s policy to enforce stricter rules around noise violations. 

While Blanchard proposed eliminating the exception entirely and Commissioner Tamara Pogue floated a 10-minute limit, all three commissioners ultimately decided to reduce the limit from 15 minutes to six. 

Noise limits in unincorporated Summit County

Under the county’s noise ordinance, various areas are subject to different noise limits. Noise is measured in decibels. At around 50 decibels, the noise would be as loud as a refrigerator. At 70, it would be as loud as a washing machine. A sustained level of 80 to 90 is when hearing damage and even loss can begin to occur. Here’s how noise levels differ across the county:


7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — 55 decibels

7 p.m. to 7 a.m. — 50 decibels


7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — 60 decibels

7 p.m. to 7 a.m. — 55 decibels

Light industrial 

7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — 70 decibels

7 p.m. to 7 a.m. — 65 decibels


7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — 80 decibels

7 p.m. to 7 a.m. — 75 decibels

The ordinance, after approval from county commissioners, allows these limits to be exceed by up to 10 decibels for six minutes every hour — with a 45 minute interval in between. This only applies to hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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