Community Cultural Centre appeal decision satisfied

A fence bars people from access to the Community Cultural Centre. One Morinville resident said he may seek the blocking of the facility’s occupancy permit. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

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.

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  1. “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.”

    This is a lot more complex then looking at numbers on a page and being able to determine the impact of sound on a neighbor hood. To clarify how decibels work it is important to realize the the peak decibel levels are not nearly as important as average decibel levels known as RMS. Peak decibel levels are far greater then the average and only last for an instant. A peak level of 71 decibels would certainly not drown out normal speech. A normal conversation has an average decibel level of 60-70 with peaks much higher at about 90 db. The human ear starts to distort at about 110 -115 decibels.

    It is important to realize the low sounds (bass drums etc.) and high sounds (guitars, voice etc.) travel at different rates and different distances. Low frequencies are much more powerful and travel much further. Ever notice how you hear the big thumping in cars as they drive by and that is about it. Inside the cars the listeners hearing is being abused by the full spectrum of instruments outside all we get is bass and sub bass.

    I doubt that Mr.Stirling is going to be getting any free concerts. He will likely hear bass but I doubt that the vocals and guitars will be loud enough for anyone in the neighbor hood to sing along unless you get those brief moments when all the wind stops, there is no traffic and you happen to know the song and can reconstruct in in your mind. Any conversations going on will easily be understood. In fact if a person puts their T.V. on they would be hard pressed to know there is even a rock show in the community cultural centre.

  2. How can a vote on final sound mitigation measures take place untill final sound levels are known?

    I too, was there and hear council say they will act if nessasary, once levels are known.

  3. To Paul Smith: Its not me saying that “peak levels will hit 71 dBs and sound at that level would overcome normal speech.” This is was a quote from the first ACI report. The same company that the Town is using as their expert opinion.

    Noise is a complex issue, however you need to keep in mind that the nuisance noise will be happening into the late hours of the night during the summer months when residents typically want to keep their windows open. And as was pointed out earlier to Council, the High School acts as a perfect sound reflector of any nearby noise, directing traffic and what will now be amplified sound directly into our homes.

    With your final comment: “In fact if a person puts their T.V. on they would be hard pressed to know there is even a rock show in the community cultural centre.” Mr. Smith, I don’t know what your background is or what your basing this statement on, but the Town’s own expert “ACI” has a different opinion which they have based on the building materials, distances and anticipated frequencies.

    To Joe Gosselin: Again, the Town’s own expert has made the necessary calculations to determine what the residual noise will be and this report was presented to Council last year. Either you believe your expert or you don’t.

    The SDAB Ruling was quite clear, Final Sound Mitigation Methods were to be approved BEFORE the issuance of the occupancy certificate. Final mitigations methods were not on the table and the Council side-stepped the ruling. As far as I’m concerned the Town is now in contempt of an SDAB order.

  4. I like our mayor’s comment “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.”

    Why is it that whenever there is a legitimate problem in our community, the solution held by many is to simply move?

    If you don’t like your children receiving a Catholic permeated education at their local public school, then you should move.

    If you don’t like the loud noise coming into your living room, then you should move.

    Morinville’s new motto should be: If you don’t like it, move!

  5. Marjorie, I think you may be misinterpreting the mayor’s comment. I don’t think he’s suggesting that people should move, rather he is saying that is how he believes people will react. I don’t think there’s a need to read further into that particular comment.

  6. Seems to me once again that Morinville put the cart before the horse and they are now playing catch up by whatever means they can to recify this situation. If they would have had all the testing and study reports on the table BEFORE THEY APPROVED THIS SITE, then none of this would have happened! Why is it that residents have to argue with a town council because this council did not apply due diligence and have all the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted? Shame on you once again council, especially including you mayor! What’s next? If this results in a lawsuit, here comes another tax increase! Then what, there aren’t any more bylaws that can be created to get more fines out of the citizens of Morinville!

  7. For all who want to place Council members on this lofty perch of being all wise and all knowing…… is a news flash for you.

    They are all laymen and women who put their names forward to try and make a difference in their community. They may have an area of expertise but for the most part they are learning as they go.

    Yes, laymen and women, who rely on experts to provide advice to which they then make decisions on. People like engineers, planners, lawyers etc.

    Now, there were two locations selected for the location of the Cultural Centre. Both have residents near them. In fact, where in Morinville is there a location where there are NO residents that the town could have placed this facility?

    Council sought the wisdom of its citizens during the planning process and open houses but VERY few came out to offer that wisdom. Maybe then, the sound could have been better addressed.

    None of the experts expressed any concern over potential noise, nor did anyone else because for the most part, no one came forth with their wisdom and foresight.

    That is. . . . . until AFTER the fact. Now I see why hind sight is so valuable. People can come out and seem so wise and all knowing.

  8. To Will: You are quite correct about the lawsuit issue, in that if it comes it will be the direct cause of a lack of due diligence on the part of this Town. And believe me, the residents in this area really hope that it won’t come to this. But, this Town was warned prior to the initial issuance of the permit, Joe Gosselin made the motion on the Board to issue the permit regardless of lack of a residential impact study. I brought these concerns to Council and Mayor Birtschi told me exactly how wrong and misinformed I was about this issue, only to have all of his points torn apart during the Appeals Hearing a few weeks later as being either completely inaccurate or what was considered half truths. Councilors Phinney and VanDeWalle sat on the Appeals Board, which states that quality of life for nearby residences, will be negatively affected.

    Now for a lawsuit, will it be me the individual taking this to Court or will the actual noise interference be enough to turn this into a Group Action? Time will tell. But instead of following the order of the SDAB in having Final Mitigation Methods approved prior to operations, this Town has voted to hold further studies at our expense. Instead of displaying common sense, which would have them take a local band into the Centre and crank it up for a test, and make necessary adjustments, they choose to spend $2500 per test to have ACI conduct a residential noise test/study of existing sounds. As I pointed out to the CAO of this Town a while back, I’ll make it simple “The baseline level for amplified sound for this area now being studied is ZERO”.

    I think Counselor Boutestein best summed up this entire mess on final mitigation methods when she said to the Mayor “It appears that we have had this (SDAB Ruling) for a year now and have done nothing with it”

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