Noise News for Week of November 24, 1996

Noise Pollution is a Hazard for Home Owners

PUBLICATION: Redbook Magazine
DATE: December 1996
BYLINE: Art Levine
DATELINE: United States
ACTIVISTS, INDIVIDUALS, AND GROUPS MENTIONED: Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., a member of the board of directors of New York City's Council on the Environment and a noise pollution researcher; Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental policy group; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Kim Katz, home owner and member of residents' group; James Corless, grassroots coordinator for Washington, DC-based Surface Transportation Policy Project

Redbook Magazine reports that as America's suburbs expand, so do the number of problems for homeowners. In this article, Art Levine tells "why more and more home owners are stuck in houses they can't sell—and how not to be one of them." Levine's article deals with a host of homeowner problems from environmental dangers to unforeseen development that results in noise problems. Highlighted in the extensive article is one family's problems with airport noise in Denver, Colorado, as well as two cases of homeowners in New Jersey and in Texas who are faced with noise from new highways.

In this article filled with several "buyer beware" warnings, noise pollution is seen as particularly insidious because "Unlike lead paint or hazardous waste, which can be removed, noise can persist for years, driving home owners batty." The article quotes noise pollution expert Arline Bronzaft as saying that noise from airports and overhead planes is particularly intrusive. And the number of flights at major airports are only increasing—the article says that the number of flights at Chicago's O'Hare Airport increased by 14 percent in the 1990's. The article goes on to tell the story of one family who was caught off-guard by a new airport project. For fifteen years, the Katz family has lived twenty miles outside of Denver in a rural section of Adams County. When the new Denver airport opened just a few miles from their home, Kim Katz said, "We knew we were going to have some noise, but the airport's environmental impact statement said we were clearly out of the way of any kind of flight path." She also said airport officials assured residents that they would not be exposed to hazardous noise levels. But from opening day, a flight was made a mere 1,000 feet above her house. Since then, Katz says the airport sends up to 200 flights a day flying over her neighborhood. She is convinced the noise will only get worse since the new airport is not yet operating at full capacity.

With the advent of the new Denver airport and the noise, Mrs. Katz claims the value of her home has fallen to practically nothing. The article states that Mrs. Katz and about 60 other residents are planning to sue the city and county of Denver for damages and new homes. Reportedly, dozens of other lawsuits are being planned. In the fall of 1996, the Natural Resources Defense Council criticized both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to adequately protect the public from airport noise. An average decibel level of below 65 is recommended for residential areas by the federal government according to this article. "We don't control [airports]," concedes Tom Bennett, FAA environmental specialist. "Noise control is up to the airports themselves."

The Redbook article lists several steps for prospective homeowners to take to find out whether noise will endanger their homes. In the case of airport noise, Dr. Bronzaft, Bennett and others suggest contacting the noise abatement or community relations office of the local airport authority for contour maps that show the sound levels and current flight paths of planes. Bronzaft also recommends reading back issues of the local newspaper to find out about potential developments and controversies. "And visit the house at different times, sit in the house for a few hours, talk to local residents," says Bronzaft.

Also cited in the article is the case of homeowners' lives being made miserable by noise from new highways. Gail Marien and her family took a "calculated risk" which turned into a nightmare situation when a new 20-mile stretch of I-287 in New Jersey was built after being delayed and opposed for 20 years. When the highway that completes a giant beltway around the New York metropolitan area was opened in November 1993, the article claims life was made miserable for many residents in three New Jersey counties. Instead of a quieter asphalt surface, the new highway's surface is concrete with safety grooves cut across it that cause a "disturbing high-pitched sound." Mrs. Marien says, "It sounds like a roller coaster might sound going under your house. It's difficult to sleep." She says the value of her home has decreased by 30 percent. And highways placed close to neighborhoods not only add noise; they disrupt the quality of life. Gary and Jane Basham bought their home five years ago in Austin, Texas, before the expansion of a 4-lane community road into a 12-lane super highway with elevated highways. Before the highway, the Basham's neighborhood had a quiet, rural-like charm, says Mr. Basham. Since the new highway, he says, "It's been devastating. The changes are destroying the character of the area."

In this article, James Corless, a grassroots coordinator for the Surface Transportation Policy Project based in Washington, DC, reminds home buyers that just because a large-scale project has been opposed for years does not mean it's going to go away. "The staying power is with the bureaucrats and the highway builders," said Corless. The experts cited in this article also recommend potential home buyers to check with the local planning and zoning department to learn about upcoming projects. Robert Freilich, Ph.D., an attorney who edits the American Bar Association's national urban law journal, warns, "Never rely solely on the real estate broker when buying property; their commission is paid by the seller."

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California City Votes to Ban Fast Food Drive-Through Windows at Night

PUBLICATION: Los Angeles Times
DATE: November 28, 1996
SECTION: Metro; Part B; Page 5; Metro Desk
DATELINE: Santa Monica, California

The Santa Monica City Council prohibited drive-up windows at restaurants from operating at night, after residents complained about noise and traffic from patrons. The rule would only apply in residential areas.

The article goes on to say that six establishments are affected by the ordinance. One -- Jack in the Box -- sued while a similar, temporary ordinance was in effect. The establishments do have the option of petitioning for a permit of conditional use, though all of the restaurants have agreed to comply with the audience, besides Jack in the Box.

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Los Angeles Council Postpones Vote to Ban Gas Leaf Blowers

PUBLICATION: Los Angeles Times
DATE: November 27, 1996
SECTION: Metro; Part B; Page 3; Metro Desk
BYLINE: Jodi Wilgoren
DATELINE: Los Angeles, California
ACTIVISTS, INDIVIDUALS, AND GROUPS MENTIONED: Michael Blodgett, Los Angeles resident

The Los Angeles City Council was supposed to vote on a proposal to prohibit the use of leaf blowers, but decided to postpone its decision. Residents were upset at continued delays, and said that "If we have to take it to a ballot, we will, and we'll win it on a ballot." Despite the lack of a vote, an amendment was added to the proposal to allow equipment that acted as a vacuum for leaves.

The article notes that gardeners, who oppose the ban, were not expecting a delay but are pleased that they have until July to decide how to cope if it is passed. Another vote was planned for next week. One gardener said he did not know about vacuum-style leaf collectors, but said that they may be a feasible option.

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Previous week: November 17, 1996
Next week: December 1, 1996



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