West Coast neighbours at war over 'excessive' classical music

Greymouth couple Edgar Rochwalski and Janice Lee dispute a $500 fine for playing classical music excessively in their garage.
JOANNE CARROLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Greymouth couple Edgar Rochwalski and Janice Lee dispute a $500 fine for playing classical music excessively in their garage.

A West Coast couple accused of playing Radio New Zealand Concert too loudly have challenged a council fine in court.

Greymouth man Edgar Rochwalski disputed the $500 fine, saying their radio was not that loud and they turned down the volume after the Grey District Council issued a written notice. 

Neighbour Katrina Stewart told the court Rochwalski and his wife, Janice Lee, played excessive classical music in their shed, which bordered the back of her property. 

"I've had excessive classical music blasted at me for three years . . . Right at my deck it was unbearable. The music was opera screeching, high-pitch squealing. It felt like nails on a blackboard. It was hard to put up with," she said.

READ MORE: Noise control called after constant classical music irks neighbours

She said she was unable to play outside with her 4-year-old disabled son, who loved being outdoors.

It was disrupting her peace, comfort and convenience. She had called the council's noise control on numerous occasions to complain.

Council noise control officer Kevin Hebberd told the court the council received a noise complaint at 2.30pm on January 29, 2016. Two council officers visited the property and found the music  playing there was excessive.

"It was of a volume that it would be difficult to sit there and read a book or have a quiet conversation or just normal activity we would expect to carry out on your deck. It was loud," he said. 

The officers asked Rochwalski to turn down the music, but he refused.

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He also refused to give his name and address, and asked the officers to call police. 

Hebberd called police and returned to issue a written abatement notice. He estimated Rochwalski did not comply until about 10 minutes later. 

Rochwalski played a recording of the incident to the court which showed he turned the music down one minute and 27 seconds after he received the written warning. 

The council's lawyer, Marcus Zintl, said Rochwalski still had to pay the fine because he did not comply with the initial verbal warning.

Rochwalski said the music was playing at a level already approved as acceptable after a noise complaint in February 2015. 

On January 6, the couple received a letter from Greymouth District Council chief executive Paul Pretorius asking them to keep their music to acceptable levels. Rochwalski believed the council and the neighbour were harassing him and his wife. 

He said he recorded the exchange with the council officers on January 29, which took place outside his garage. Although the voices were clear on the recording, no music could be heard. 

"You can hear the cicadas and birds chirping but no music and it was playing at the same level they said was excessive," he said. 

Rochwalski did not pay the $500 infringement and instead opted for a district court hearing.

He now faces a criminal offence of not complying with an excessive noise direction, which carries a maximum fine of $10,000. 

After five hours of evidence, Judge Robert Murfitt discovered the type of offence had to be heard by a district court judge appointed under the Resource Management Act. 

He adjourned the case while he investigated whether he needed to abandon the hearing. 

"These sorts of hearings are very uncommon and no one has noticed this technicality. I have just spoken to the chief judge of New Zealand and she has appointed me a Resource Management Act judge for this case.

"That was a bit of a panic. The whole day could have been wasted. If there is no objection I'm happy to carry on," he said. 

The case will continue for another half day. No date has been set yet.

 - Stuff

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