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Noise: A Land Use Dilemma? A Case Study of the City of Jacksonville

Environmental & Land Use Law

Numerous studies have shown that mixed land uses, high density populations, and amenities for pedestrians can present challenges for achieving noise levels that protect citizens from the effects of noise.1 Based on field investigations and anecdotal evidence of what appeared to be a combination of the above mentioned factors, the City of Jacksonville’s Environmental Quality Division (EQD) decided to investigate whether zoning changes were having an impact on the increase in noise complaints.2

The writers of this article examined noise complaints documented in the city’s Citizen’s Active Response Effort (CARE) system3 and then researched the property appraiser’s database4 and city council legislation5 in order to document those cases where a zoning change may have led to an incompatible use, resulting in noise complaints. The writers limited themselves to studying the noise complaints received between October 2006 and May 2007 that were documented in the city’s CARE system. The majority of the complaints fit into one of four categories: dumpsters, nightclubs, residential equipment (pool pumps, air conditioners), and adjacent construction. Many of these complaints resulted in enforcement action being taken against the owner/operator of the noise source. A proactive approach to addressing these common noise issues would be a much preferred path rather than a regulatory reaction which may involve the imposition of penalties and the costs of corrective actions on trash haulers, landowners, and construction companies.

Between the months of October 2006 and May 2007, 382 noise complaints were received and documented in the city’s CARE system.6 The number of noise complaints may have been limited due to intra-city efforts to resolve this very issue during this timeframe. The exact details of the zoning-related complaints are available in the endnotes.7 Careful study of the zoning history of both the complainant and source properties showed that a portion of the complaints arose after legislative zoning changes. While the number of zoning-related complaints is not significant enough to warrant a firm conclusion that zoning changes are the direct cause of an increase in noise complaints, it does point to a broader issue: The need for planning and mitigating measures, not only prior to development, but also as development and population densities continue to expand.8

There are a number of actions that a city or county can take to reduce the impact of noise on a local population and improve the overall quality of life for residents. These measures include zoning and noise pollution ordinances, preventive planning, source and path control, and receiver control. The most effective means of reducing the impact of noise is at the planning stage, addressing potential noise issues before they arise through predevelopment noise assessments, noise exposure mapping, and source control through zoning regulations. Through planning, jurisdictions can minimize the potential for conflict between proposed land uses and sources of noise pollution.9 Proper planning also facilitates cost effectiveness and maximizes the number of available planning and design options. ensuring that conflicting land uses are identified and minimized at the predevelopment stage, the need for subsequent remedial measures is avoided.

The Florida Comprehensive Planning and Land Development Regulation Act, F.S. Ch. 163, Part II, requires every city to implement an advanced planning system, the comprehensive plan, which regulates future development.10 The plan is designed to control the flow of development and provide protection for social, economic, and environmental resources.11 However, the act does not specifically address the issue of noise.12 Thus, it is up to each individual county and city to address noise at the planning level. Requiring environmental assessments prior to any change in zoning or future development, with specific attention given to the impact of noise, can help make the plan more effective in protecting citizens and fostering positive growth while maintaining the quality of life.13 Such an assessment is essential now because, as growth continues, so too will noise-related issues.

Another effective planning measure is identifying and drawing attention to known noise sources in a community. Noise exposure mapping labels all noise sources within a given community to prevent placement of incompatible land uses within the same area.14 Once noise sources have been identified and mapped, noise exposure levels can be calculated and used to develop noise management plans. Currently, noise exposure mapping is conducted and noise contours established for airports under federal aviation regulations.15 Similar evaluations could be done for other noise sources, such as commercial activities located next to residential properties, construction activity impacts on adjacent residential properties, and locating dumpsters, air conditioners, and other such equipment on site plans in the planning process. Where neighboring incompatible uses are unavoidable, mitigating measures can be required as a prerequisite to any new development or change in use. The most typical prerequisite is the use of larger setbacks and land buffers between incompatible land uses as well as barriers, both natural and manmade.16

To implement the local plan, every city and county in Florida has some form of zoning ordinance that serves to protect citizens from the effects of incompatible land uses. The protective effect of a zoning ordinance is greatly enhanced when coupled with noise pollution ordinances. The current Jacksonville zoning regulations, read in conjunction with the city’s noise ordinance and Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board Rule 4 (JEPB Rule 4), provide safeguards against the impact of noise and land use conflicts. In addition to the City of Jacksonville, more than 60 percent of Florida counties have enacted ordinances specifically addressing noise pollution.17

The city’s zoning ordinances affect the use and occupancy of land, as well as the population density and lot coverage.18 City zoning ordinances establish permitted land uses and acceptable secondary land uses, as well as minimum and maximum lot sizes within each district. The land uses permitted in each zone are limited to those listed under city ordinance; however, applications for changes in zoning, as well as exceptions to the zoning restrictions, are available. Under the current regulations, applicants requesting a change in zoning bear the burden of proving that the zoning change is consistent with, and furthers the goals of, the city’s comprehensive plan19 and is not in conflict with any of the city’s land use regulations.20 Noise reduction is stated as public purpose of tree and landscape requirement in the city’s zoning regulations.21 When a change in zoning will result in adjacent uncomplimentary land uses due to potentially unacceptable levels of noise, the city requires the use of trees or other vegetation, and other mitigation measures, to reduce the impact of noise.22 in addition, public notice and hearing must be provided before any zoning changes can be put into effect. The city’s planning commission or city council has the authority to deny any land use change based on substantial competent evidence that adverse impacts to adjacent landowners outweigh the interests of the applicants.23 For nonresidential properties, a certificate of use is required, subject to inspection and review, for any changes in use, ownership, or business name or where the lot coverage is expanded or where an additional land use is included.24

The city’s noise ordinance and JEPB Rule 4 further establish decibel limits for property line noise sources, vehicles, and various other sources to limit the impact noise may have on the community.25 JEPB Rule 4 classifies lands according to noise sensitivity and establishes decibel limits for property line sources based upon the classifications of the surrounding properties.26 The rule also establishes time frames in which landscaping, parking lot cleaning, and refuse pickup may be lawfully carried out. However, the noise ordinance and JEPB Rule 4 do not prescribe measures to prevent conflicting land uses from being located in close proximity of each other, which can result in an increase in noise complaints. Thus, extensive planning and mitigating measures are necessary to further reduce the effects of noise pollution associated with incompatible land uses and to increase the quality of life for citizens.

The city also has its own planning procedures directed towards the reduction of noise pollution, addressed in the future land use element of its comprehensive plan. According to city policy, prior to any development or redevelopment, the use of available mitigating measures is required, including land buffers and other available noise control methods.27 The city also requires consideration of adjacent land uses prior to construction to ensure the continued quality of life for residential areas.28 Additionally, as a prerequisite to residential planning near highways, the city requires the implementation of sound walls to reduce the impact of traffic noise.29 The city also reviews planned use developments and developments of regional impact with an eye toward potential noise issues.

Where incompatible land uses are preexisting or unavoidable, the effects of noise can be reduced through source control. In the industrial and commercial setting, noise can be controlled by encouraging or requiring the use of best management practices (BMP) and best available technology economically achievable (BATEA). BMP is the adoption of operational procedures designed to minimize noise while retaining productive efficiency.30 An example of BMP would include scheduling the operation of noisy equipment during the least sensitive time of day or locating noise generating equipment in concealed areas. BATEA is the use of facilities and equipment that incorporates the best technology affordable to reduce noise output.31 An example of BATEA would include using “smarter” reverse beepers and quieter, properly maintained engines on trucks.

The city has already implemented its own version of BMP and BATEA in its Jacksonville Design Guidelines and Best Practices Handbook.32 The handbook provides guidelines for the development of both urban and suburban areas with primary emphasis on aesthetics and traffic flow. Noise is addressed in Part 3, §1.6, requiring visual and audio buffers around service and utility areas.33 Receiver control is primarily at issue where residential land use is permitted in traditionally commercial and industrial zones. Receiver control involves the use of architectural remedies to reduce the amount of noise that permeates a structure. Developers in and around such commercial or industrial zones can reduce the permeation of noise by minimizing the number of windows and doors and using extra-paned glass and solid-core doors where such items are installed.34 Additional means include increasing the density of the building structure and installing sound-deadening insulation in walls.35 Finally, and related to the issue of preplanning, the placement of less noise-sensitive rooms, such as kitchens and bathrooms closest to the noise source can reduce noise impact.36

As commercial and residential communities continue to expand, ever evolving noise-specific regulations and planning will be necessary to maintain a quality of life that will foster successful growth. As local practitioners are advising their clients, they can make them aware that many jurisdictions in Florida have noise regulations. Those regulations may not be obvious as oftentimes they are not located within the planning or zoning code. Practitioners should do their research to help clients plan their projects around noise impacts and with noise attenuation in mind. Ultimately, it will take a combination of efforts to resolve noise issues in densely compacted urban areas, especially where incompatible land uses are located next to each other. Public education regarding the impacts of noise on the community and the means to mitigate those impacts can bring noise issues to the attention of interested parties and better prepare them to work together.37 All parties involved — developers, industry, government, and residents — should partner together to find the remedy that best suits each situation.

1 Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Annex to Publication LU-131, Noise Assessment Criteria in Land Use Planning (October 1997), available at
; U.S. Dept. of Transportation, The Audible Landscape: A Manual for Highway Noise and Land Use (August 1976), available at
; Federal Aviation Administration, Land Use Compatibility and Airports, available at

2 The Air Quality Branch of the Environmental Quality Division handles all noise related complaints. In the 1970s, the City of Jacksonville recognized that the control of noise was necessary to protect its citizens from loss of hearing, sleeplessness, and stress caused by high levels of noise. The first set of laws passed were nuisance based, with no set values for permissible noise. In 1986, the Environmental Protection Board promulgated EPB Rule 4, providing specific decibel limits for noise. The rule has since evolved significantly, improving both clarity and definition to provide for more equitable enforcement of noise standards.

3 Citizen’s Active Response Effort (CARE),

4 City of Jacksonville, Property Appraiser, Duval County Database Search, July 23, 2007.

5 City of Jacksonville, City Council, Legislative Bill Search,

6 Dana L. Brown, City of Jacksonville, Environmental Quality Division, CARE system database pull July 20, 2007.

7 Fifty-nine complaints (excluding repeat complaints involving the same parties) involved a difference in zoning between the complainant’s property and the source’s property. Fifteen of those 59 complaints involved the rezoning of one or both properties by city legislation ( e.g. , where a portion of land that was originally zoned industrial was subsequently rezoned residential). Seven of the complaints involved changes in zoning from commercial or industrial to residential; 8 involved changes in zoning from residential to commercial or industrial.

8 It is important to note that while rezoning bills were found for only a handful of properties, not all of the rezoning bills are available on the Web and, thus, the absence of a bill does not necessarily mean that the properties were never rezoned via legislative action. While the city’s database does contain documents dated back to the early 1900s, all of the rezoning bills pertinent to this study were dated after 1973. Thus, additional and much more extensive research is necessary to determine if there is, in fact, a direct correlation between zoning changes and increases in noise complaints.

9 Annex to Publication LU-131, Noise Assessment Criteria in Land Use Planning.

10 Fla. Stat. §163.3161 et seq.

11 Id.

12 Id.

13 Tom Angotti , Noise Pollution: A City Planning Problem,
Gotham Gazette
(Sept. 2003).

14 World Health Organization, editors Birgitta Berglund, Thomas Lindvall, and Dietrich H Schwela, Guidelines for Community Noise (1999), available at

15 1 4 C.F.R. Part 150 (2004); see, e.g., Jacksonville Ordinance Code ( hereinafter Ordinance Code) Ch. 656, Part 10 (2008).

16 World Health Organization, editors Berglund, Lindvall, and Schwela, Guidelines for Community Noise (1999) . A recently passed bill (HB 985) authorizes the use of tax revenues for the construction of noise mitigation facilities near highways. The bill took effect on July 1, 2007.

17 Based upon research conducted using, 33 of the 50 counties listed had noise pollution ordinances, some more expansive than others. See, e.g., Alachua County Ord. Code §§110.01 et seq. ; Bay County Ord. Code §§17-21 et seq. ; Broward County Ord. §§27-231 et seq. ; Hillsborough County Ord. Code §§11-16, 26-4.1; Pinellas County Ord. §§58-441 et seq.

18 Ordinance Code §§656.222; 656.223 (1991), available at

19 Ordinance Code §650.101 et seq. (1980).

20 Ordinance Code §656.125 (1998).

21 Ordinance Code §656.1202 (1993).

22 Ordinance Code §656.1216 (2008).

23 Ordinance Code §656.109 (2005).

24 Ordinance Code §656.151 (2005).

25 JEPB Rule 4, Noise Pollution Control (1995), available at

26 JEPB Rule 4.201.

27 City of Jacksonville, 2010 Comprehensive Plan, Future Land Use Element §1.1.14.,

28 Future Land Use Element §§2.2.4; 3.2.12.

29 Future Land Use Element §§3.1.12; 3.1.14.

30 Environment Protection Authority, NSW Industrial Noise Policy (Jan. 2000), available at

31 Id.

32 City of Jacksonville, Jacksonville Design Guidelines and Best Practices Handbook ,

33 Id.

34 Chris Corbisier, Living with Noise (July/August 2003),

35 Id.

36 Id.

37 World Health Organization, editors Berglund, Lindvall, and Schwela, Guidelines for Community Noise (1999).
Dana L. Brown is the environmental enforcement administrator for the City of Jacksonville, Environmental Quality Division, an approved local pollution control program. She is also chair of The Florida Bar’s Law Related Education Committee. Ms. Brown received her J.D. from John Marshall Law School in 1988.

Lee White is a recent graduate of Florida Coastal School of Law who served as an intern for the Environmental Quality Division in 2007.

The authors’ statements in this article do not reflect the official position or opinion of the City of Jacksonville.

This column is submitted on behalf of the Environmental and Land Use Law Section, Paul H. Chipok, chair, and Gary K. Oldehoff and Kelly Samek, editors.

Environmental & Land Use Law