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Noise still a concern for residents near Columbia's Blandair Park

Spring marks the return of outdoor activities and warmer weather. For Emerson Hill residents living near Columbia's Blandair Park, spring also marks the return of the sound of air horns piercing their neighborhood.

In November, nearly 70 people who live close to the park in Oakland Mills met with county officials about the noise from sporting events. Since then, little has been done to address those concerns, said Doug Bottamiller, president of the Emerson Hill Homeowners Association.

"We're tired of empty promises; the county hasn't pulled through with any of them," Bottamiller said, standing outside his home on March 23. "It's a complete lack of respect for the community."

While residents feel little has been done, John Byrd, director of Howard County Recreation and Parks, said the county believes it has taken "pretty significant steps" to limit noise at the park since its March 2012 opening.

After the November meeting, mufflers were installed on the air horns last summer and Byrd said the county has changed its policy to require a permit to use the public address system for music, the national anthem or player introductions.

No permits have been requested, although there has been minimal activity on the fields since November, Byrd said.

The county also has contacted a lighting company and sound engineer for advice on solving lighting and noise concerns from residents. The company could begin adjusting the lights to increase shielding for homes as soon as this week, according to Byrd.

One of the only noticeable changes made since the late November meeting, Bottamiller said, is the addition of signs throughout the park encouraging spectators to "Be a GoodSport Fan" that prohibits noise makers, such as boat horns and cowbells.

But he's not convinced that will have a significant impact as the use of Blandair's fields increases.

Byrd said the county has hired a staff member who will be on site beginning in April to enforce compliance with noise regulations.

Hours of noise

The spring lacrosse season is under way, and Blandair's three fields were in use March 23 with an air horn chirping every few minutes.

The sound of a referee's whistle or a coach yelling instructions to his players can be heard in front of Bottamiller's home on Morningbird Lane, but that isn't what frustrates area residents.

"It's hard to shut fans and coaches down from yelling, that's part of the game," Bottamiller said.

It's the air horns, he said, which can be heard beginning when games start at 8 a.m. until they end around 8 p.m. or later.

"Why here? Why 100 yards from a row of townhomes," Bottamiller said.

The county installed air horns at all sports fields in county parks, according to Byrd.

Besides silencing the air horns, Bottamiller said the first thing the county can do to address neighbors' concerns is close the park at 10 p.m instead of 11 p.m..

"That's an easy, no-brainer thing to do," he said.

But Byrd said that would have a ripple effect on all county programming by closing one park earlier than the rest, which would close at 11 p.m.

He said athletic groups are aware of neighborhood concerns and the need to cut back on amplified sound.

"Everybody seems to be aware that they need to be mindful of the neighborhood," Byrd said.

Phase I of Blandair Park, including a playground, three artificial turf fields complete with bleachers and press boxes, a picnic shelter and restroom facility, opened on 25 acres in March.

Phase II, already under way, will include two baseball fields, a playground, picnic shelter, parking lot and tennis courts across Oakland Mills Road.

Fields in the phase II portion of the park will not have air horns or public address systems because they are not typically installed for diamond sports, Byrd said.

"Certainly we may not ever satisfy some members of the community, but we need to find middle ground and we're working toward that," Byrd said.

Bottamiller said more residents are becoming involved in the issue, and that he is hopeful something can be done to improve the quality of life at Emerson Hill.

"The county has an obligation to fix this," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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