Hammering at night
Geraghty seeks to limit construction hours
By Chris Busby
City Councilor Karen Geraghty has introduced an order that would prohibit noisy construction activities in residential neighborhoods after 7 p.m. The current law allows such activities to continue as late as 10 p.m., though workers seldom perform those activities later than 9 p.m., and only then in the late-spring and summer months, as daylight allows. Geraghty’s order, which the council will consider again at its Oct. 17 meeting, would apply year-round.
Geraghty did not return a call seeking comment. Seen entering her car on Spring Street last week, she told The Bollard she would respond to the call, but did not.
Most area construction workers seem unaware of the proposed law, but the more they know about it, the less they like it. “In a state where we have a relatively short building season, you need to be able to work as late as you can during the summer,” said Richard Cromwell, president of the Modular Home Builders Association of Maine. “It’s just a very difficult situation. I can’t imagine something like [Geraghty’s order] working.”
This order was first introduced at the council’s Sept. 7 meeting, where it was given the first of two formal readings and no comment was taken or offered by councilors, as is common with first readings. Upon its second reading, at the council’s Sept. 19 meeting, several councilors questioned the details of Geraghty’s proposal, such as what types of activities it includes and when the ordinance should apply.
Geraghty was clearly taken aback as the discussion of what she considered a straightforward law got complicated, and further discussion was postponed until the Oct. 5 meeting. But the issue got more complicated still that night, and was postponed again before a vote was taken. “This order came in with problems,” Geraghty acknowledged before agreeing to postpone action on her order a second time.
Ted Peters, a roofer from Westbrook who does work in Portland, told councilors at the Oct. 5 meeting that he was concerned about his ability to finish jobs by 7 p.m. in the spring and summer. This prompted talk of creating a special permit for workers who need a few more hours after 7 p.m. to complete a job. But as Peters had pointed out, workers often do not know they will need the extra time until the evening arrives and City Hall is closed.
Councilor Cheryl Leeman expressed concern over the proposed law’s potential impact on small businesspeople. “This is their livelihood we’re talking about,” she said. Leeman suggested the order be changed to allow repair and remodeling work, but not demolition activities, after 7 p.m. Geraghty rejected that idea. “I don’t want this to get complicated,” she said.
Councilor Jim Cohen suggested the order take decibel levels into account, but then acknowledged that this detail was “maybe a bit too complicated,” as it would involve city staff visiting construction sites after 7 p.m. with decibel meters.
Councilor Will Gorham said in a recent interview that he was unsure whether Geraghty’s order will pass on Oct. 17. Mayor Jill Duson has already pledged to vote against it, saying at the Oct. 5 meeting that she would do so “so these guys can make a living during a very short season.”
Gorham, whose council district includes Munjoy Hill and downtown, said he has not received any complaints about construction taking place after 7 p.m., but was once awoken by a constituent angry about construction going on before 7 a.m.
“It seems to me things have worked well all this time,” Gorham said. “Why would we change it now?”
“Portland already has a reputation as being a bad place to do business,” Gorham added.
Cromwell, who also serves as chairman of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Maine’s Government Affairs Committee, expressed a similar frustration. “It never ceases to amaze me: the ideas people come up with to keep people from making money in the state of Maine,” he said. “Very seldom does anything happen when people don’t put their petty little interests ahead of the larger good.”
There is a big residential construction project pending in Geraghty’s neighborhood: The Portland Housing Authority is considering two proposals to build several new units on Salem Street. The PHA’s plan has sparked anger and criticism from neighbors opposed to more housing in what they say is an already densely populated neighborhood. Geraghty cited the high number of “in-fill” lots in her district when asked why she is bringing this ordinance forward at the Oct. 5 meeting.