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Sounding off against Northeast False Creek noise

A view from atop the new roof structure for B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver November 5, 2010.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

As Vancouver sets the stage for a new dense downtown neighbourhood in the shadows of its stadium-rich entertainment zone, the city is grappling with what is likely to be a major irritation: noise.

Planners are using every lever they can think of to prepare for the sounds of Madonna, monster-truck rallies and mixed-martial-arts matches wafting through the air, as 7,000 new residents move into an area with two existing stadiums - one with a new open roof that will allow sound to travel further than ever - and a future civic plaza.

Preparations include by-law that allows loud noise until 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. and requiring condo buyers in the area to sign legal agreements saying they know they're moving into a noisy part of the city. Planners are also asking developers to design their buildings to be more soundproof and event organizers to look at ways to reduce the noise coming from mixing boards.

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Developers and stadium operators are getting one minor break in that they aren't expected to try to control or soundproof for cheering noise, which typically exceeds noise limits.

"Crowd cheering will be the most frequent loud noise [but]it is unreasonable to expect the city to be taking enforcement action," was the prim comment from a recent report that went to council.

Councillors say that although Northeast False Creek is going to be publicized as an event-oriented area where people have to expect noise, they still have to make an effort to minimize the impacts.

"When that roof is open, we are going to be the ones getting the noise complaints," said COPE Councillor David Cadman.

He said the city won't have much control over when BC Place opens or closes its roof for events. "That's going to be driven by their business model."

BC Place is anticipating it will have three times as many major events at the new stadium as the old one, more than 40 a year.

The city hasn't asked for any reduction in that number, said Warren Buckley, CEO of PavCo, the provincial government's agency for managing BC Place. And, while he said PavCo can talk to event organizers about reducing noise, "at some point you start sacrificing the sound quality."

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The new noise regulations have been mostly welcomed by the current residents, except for the new provision allowing noise to go on until 11 p.m.

But developers in the area are worried about the impact on construction costs. And they say they don't understand why they are being asked to create more soundproof buildings in an area that's being marketed as an event neighbourhood, when condo builders in other noisy areas aren't.

"If this passes, this would be the most stringent noise guidelines in all of Vancouver, which is strange considering this is supposed to be an entertainment district," said Barry Savage, vice-president of development for Aquilini Investment Group. "The developers near Granville Street won't have nearly as similar a by-law, yet they're building next to a place that goes on until 3 in the morning five nights a week."

Mr. Savage said that to achieve the soundproofing that city wants, builders will have to build thicker concrete walls and order custom-designed windows, both of which will be expensive.

Aquilini is one of four landowners planning to build in the area around the stadiums. The others are Concord Pacific, PavCo and Canadian Metropolitan Properties, which owns the old Expo 86 Plaza of Nations site.

Mr. Savage said all of the developers have similar concerns.

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Right now, the city's noise by-law says that there has to be enough soundproofing so that noise levels inside an apartment are no more than 55 dBC (decibels relative to the carrier signal), a measure of the "deep bass" sound in any noise mix. Usually the city doesn't allow noise higher than 70 dBC on the streets from concerts or construction and, even then, only until 10 p.m.

Staff are asking developers to come up with proposals to get the noise levels down to 40-50 dBC, which they will have to demonstrate they have done when they apply for development-permit approvals.

A conversation in a meeting is usually 60 dBA (the more broad-spectrum measurement, not just the bass). The way sound is measured, that is twice as loud as a noise that is 50 dBA. A truck passing next to someone on a sidewalk generates about 80 dBA.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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