Bells take toll on residents Waverly: A three-year feud over bell-ringing at St. John's Episcopal Church is over as far as the government is concerned, but not for some residents.

February 26, 1997|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

As far as the government is concerned, a three-year feud between a Waverly church and local residents is officially over. Some residents think otherwise.

The feud was marked by heated debates, mounds of letters written and piles of complaints and documents filed about the volume and frequency of chimes of St. John's Episcopal Church at 3009 Greenmount Ave.

The bells chime from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. On weekdays, they strike 65 times before 9 a.m., 859 times in all through the day -- at least once every 13 minutes. The weekend schedule is lighter, but the bells still start at 6 a.m.

Under pressure from state regulators who found the church violated noise regulations, St. John's erected Plexiglas around the bells a few weeks ago to muffle the sound to acceptable decibel levels. This has satisfied regulators -- but not all the residents.

"It's somewhat lower, and there is a noticeable difference, but we can still hear it inside of our houses," said Dolores Moran, a community leader who lives in the 600 block of E. 31st St. "I intend to look into it further. There are laws that say if people of normal sensibilities find a sound too loud, something is usually done about it."

The Maryland Department of the Environment visited Moran's street five times between Nov. 20 and Dec. 30 and reported the bells clanging "consistently exceeded the 65 decibels maximum permitted" during the day.

But not anymore.

"We consider the case closed," said Alan Williams, chief of emergency response for the department, which conducted tests this month and found the levels to be satisfactory.

"We advised the complainants they are still going to hear the bells, but as far as the state of Maryland is concerned, they're in compliance and we're done."

Moran and her neighbors began their crusade in 1994, when 13 residents wrote letters asking the church to change the schedule. Moran filed a complaint with the city in 1995 citing Baltimore City Noise Ordinance No. 108-Article 19, Section 221.

Residents said they couldn't get help from government agencies and couldn't reach an agreement with the church, so they contacted Mary Pat Clarke, then City Council president.

"Mercifully, I was not re-elected so I could leave the bells behind me," Clarke said jokingly.

The Rev. Jesse Parker, pastor of St. John's, clearly is fed up from years of dealing with the controversy.

"We have consistently worked with the city and state to conform to the standards they have set," he said. "One side of one block of East 31st Street doesn't like our bells. We are trying to do what's right for the majority of the community."

Selina Carroll and Charlene Gaskins lived directly across from the church and had to move in 1995 to escape the bells, they said.

"It was really bad," Carroll said. "The windows would vibrate, and you couldn't talk on the phone."

Moran said she couldn't afford to move. So she channeled her frustration into a 1995 art show in which she depicted how the work of great artists would have been affected by such a bell. Her works included such titles as "Ears Are Not Just Decorations" (a self-portrait), and "Wheat Field With Bells," mimicking Van Gogh.

Moran plans to write more letters, contact community groups and study noise ordinances to find a way to limit the ringing.

Neighbor Eleanor Montgomery will be right there.

"It's still incredibly annoying," she said. "I think we are going to continue the fight. I guess the decibels went down a little bit, but that doesn't stop the bells from ringing all the time."

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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