By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – With less than a month to go before the official opening of the Community Cultural Centre, Morinville Town Council was faced with deciding if a condition set by the Subdivision Development Appeal Board (SDAB) last spring was satisfied. In a three-to-two vote Tuesday night the condition was removed, allowing the occupancy permit to be issued.
In delivering their decision on an appeal brought forth by 99A Avenue resident Tim Stirling last year over concerns that potential noise coming from the centre would affect the quality of life in his neighbourhood, the SDAB had agreed with the appellant there would be an effect on neighbours and ruled that before an occupancy certificate could be issued certain conditions would have to be met. Namely – “That a sound assessment be completed concerning the development by a qualified expert with final sound mitigation methods to be approved by Town of Morinville Council at a regular or special Council meeting open to the public prior to the occupancy permit being issued.”
After an hour-long discussion and debate Tuesday night, council remained split on whether the condition had been satisfied. Councillors Nicole Boutestein and Lisa Holmes casted opposing votes on the grounds they felt the information presented in their council packages was insufficient to satisfy them the condition had been satisfied. A second vote on an amendment that added clarification about post-opening monitoring was still opposed by Boutestein. Councillor Ben Van de Walle abstained from the discussion and vote as he had sat on the SDAB during the appeal.
During the discussion, Morinville’s Chief Administrative Officer Edie Doepker argued the condition had been met because Manasc Isaac Architects, the firm employed to design the cultural centre had employed a company called ACI to prepare the sound assessment complete with baseline testing of existing sound conditions. Additionally, the CAO offered the building’s design features and materials as evidence the sound mitigation methods were acceptable.
A July 2010 letter in Monday’s council package from the architect Manasc Isaac to PCL, the company building the cultural centre, identifies some noise attenuation suggestions. The first would have involved significant changes to the roof and wall design, which in turn would have affected the buildings heat loss as the HVAC system was designed to provide balance between heating and cooling load. Doepker told council changes of that magnitude would have significantly altered the cost of the project as well as the schedule, something echoed in the architect’s letter of July, 2010.
The second item discussed in the letter was the idea of building a wall to block noise from hitting residents on 99A Avenue, something Stirling had been lobbying for as a possible sound mitigation method. The letter quotes ACI’s opinion the wall would be ineffective and in fact could have the opposite to desired effect. The consultant felt the wall could reduce road noise, making concert noise seem all the greater. The acoustical engineers also indicated planting trees, while adding to visual appeal would have no value in noise attenuation.
In presenting her case to council, Doepker said in addition to the cultural centre having been designed with a central auditorium, doors that face up the street away from residents, and enhanced insulation in the building’s design, policies and procedures would be put in place to keep noise levels reasonable. Those policies would include limiting the decibel level for bands and other concerts and ensuring exterior doors were kept closed during performances.
“Our intent and I know council’s intent has been to be a good neighbour and to foster good relationships in the neighbourhood,” Doepker said.
Councillor David Pattison suggested tabling the decision until legal council could be sought with respect to risk management. Pattison also questioned whether the SDAB in making their ruling had the authority to put the decision on sound mitigation on council.
Mayor Lloyd Bertschi said council was in a tough spot in trying to determine what future noise would be before the cultural centre was opened. It was a position the Town’s CAO agreed with.
“The reality is there is going to be sound that emanates when you have an activity going on,”Doepker said, adding 99 per cent of the community will be supportive of those activities. “Still the town does not want to disrupt the tranquility of the one per cent who are not.”
Now that council has approved that the SDAB condition is satisfied, the building will be monitored through its opening months to measure actual cultural centre noise against the baseline information gathered by ACI, data that will determine the levels of noise the new facility actually generates.
The mayor is confident the majority of neighbouring residents are going to see what happens after the centre opens and are willing to give it a chance.
“There are a number of residents over there that are reserving judgement until they see,” Bertschi said. “They’re either going to invite their friends over for free concerts or they are going to move.”
Resident prepared to carry battle further
One resident who is not prepared to do either is Tim Stirling, a man who launched a petition in his neighbourhood, made presentations to council and ultimately launched the appeal. Stirling, who was at the May 10 council meeting said he is prepared to seek restitution if matters are unsatisfactory.
Stirling said ACI had been very clear last year that peak music sounds for concerts would be in the 120 decibel range, resulting in peak sound levels in neighbouring yard of 71 decibels. Stirling said sound at that level would overcome normal speech.
“They’re assigning a number to the building materials,” Stirling said, adding he was disappointed the town did not act on the suggestions presented to them about altering the building design and materials because it would have affected the cost and scheduling. “They had suggestions made and they did not follow the suggestions.”
He is more concerned in what he sees as council’s contravention of the SDAB ruling.
“Basically, there was no vote tonight on final solutions on mitigation,” Stirling said. “What they came up with is a study. As far as I’m concerned they are in contempt of this SDAB ruling. They have not met it.”
Stirling said he will be investigating whether or not he can legally block the occupancy permit from being issued. Whether he is successful in that bid remains to be seen; however, Stirling said he would seek restitution if noise levels proved excessive.
“If they’re going to destroy the quality of my life, I want compensation,” he said. “And if that’s what it comes down to, I’ll go through the courts and I will seek compensation.”
Stirling said he is not alone in opposition to how Morinville is handling the development of the appeal. He has a delegation set to speak before council June 14, three days after the Community Cultural Centre’s official opening.