Most of the complaints the City of Courtenay receives about noise coming from Costco Wholesale is related to the store’s HVAC system and the loading dock, and sound attenuation work in those two areas is expected to be completed by the end of this month.
Last week, council received an update from staff on the work being done to try to reduce noise coming from Costco Wholesale.
During construction of the store and following its opening in June, the city has received numerous complaints about the noise levels, hours of operation and nuisance.
As part of the approval of the development permit in July 2010, the developer was required to install a sound attenuation wall along the northern property line, adjacent to the truck loading area. The type and size of wall — a concrete wall measuring 100 metres in length and 3.6 metres in height — was based on a report provided to the city by a sound attenuation specialist.
In response to the complaints received, Costco has worked with the City to further examine the source and effects of any noise coming from this operation, development services director Peter Crawford explained in his report to council.
Further sound attenuation methods were studied, and, based on the recommendations of the sound attenuation specialist, Costco is now installing screening around the rooftop condenser and installing a wall along the loading dock and adding sound-absorbing material on the building adjacent to the loading dock.
“The work proposed should be completed by the end of November,” wrote Crawford. “The improvements that are in progress should reduce the sound effects of the air circulation system and loading dock activities.”
The operation has not been in conflict with other City bylaws as it relates to hours of operation or nuisance, according to Crawford.
“This is an operation that is permitted in the zoning bylaw, and it is working within the limits that are considered normal for this type of land use and business,” he wrote. “The current issue is due to the interface between residential and commercial uses and not the noise bylaw.”
All of the complaints the city has received have been forwarded to Costco, so they are aware of the nature of the complaints, Crawford told council.
“The bulk of the complaints were about the HVAC system, and the response to that was they were going to be building a screen around there,” he said. “The second area was the loading dock noises.”
Crawford told council there have also been complaints about noise occurring at different hours, but what is happening at Costco is not abnormal compared to similar operations.
“This is a use that is allowed in this zone, and it is operation that is normal for this type of operation, no different than other major other big box stores,” he said. “It isn’t, in our opinion, varying from what would be normal in an operation of this type, and, given that, we do not see where it is conflicting with city bylaws.”
Coun. Manno Theos said he has spent time in the backyard of one of the nearby homes.
“What I noticed with the noise attenuation wall that currently exists is that there’s gaps in the wall; it’s not fully covered where sound seeps right through, so it almost becomes irrelevant the way it’s been created,” he said.
For Coun. Jon Ambler, the problem with legislating through noise bylaws is that it is completely subjective.
“There’s a big difference between sound and noise,” he said. “Sound is something that can be measured by a scientific engineer; it’s sound pressure waves moving through a fluid medium. Noise is totally subjective. So when you try to make a law to protect people from an unwelcome noise, it’s extremely difficult to make it precise.”
Coun. Doug Hillian wondered where in its bylaws the city has conditions that apply to business operations if the noise bylaw applies to people, not to businesses.
“Some of our zones have a condition of use provision and that is related to noise, dust … ” explained Crawford. “It is a suggestive policy we have in other zones.”
Hillian thinks the essential problem is that there is a large development in close proximity to a residential area, which has resulted in concern, and he appreciates that Costco has gone some distance to mitigate the concerns.
“The remaining concerns, in my view, will only be addressed once we have some resolution of that open space in between the residences and the building, and it would be my hope still that the city work with whomever ends up building there to construct some type of earthen berm that would provide visual and sound attenuation for the residents,” he said.
The City has not received any application for that area, according to Crawford.