Concert noise downplayed for proposal


The Rouse Co. last night presented expert testimony in defense of its plan to develop apartments next to Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Howard County Zoning Board, meet Hootie and the Blowfish.

Hootie and the Blowfish, along with two other rock groups, Ted Nugent and Bad Company, figured prominently in testimony on a 158-acre rezoning package aimed at expanding Columbia and building more apartments in the downtown area.

The main opposition to the package has come from prominent Columbia residents who fear that 11 acres of apartments in the package could put the pavilion out of business. People who move into the condominiums or rental units that could be built near Merriweather, they argue, would complain about noise and create trouble for the landmark open-air concert facility.

Responding to those concerns, Rouse planners hired Gerald Henning, a Virginia-based acoustical engineer, to investigate.

He and his colleagues set up sound measuring devices on the property to be rezoned, which is just west of Symphony Woods, which surrounds the pavilion.

They measured normal background noise in the area, which ran between 45 and 60 decibels at about 11 p.m.

Normal speech, he told the board, is about 60 decibels at a distance of 3 feet from its source.

At the Ted Nugent and Bad Company concert June 26, Mr. Henning's equipment was placed at the sound mixing board in the center of the pavilion and measured 110 decibels. It was his opinion that levels near the stage during the hard-rock performance reached 120 decibels.

Just how loud is that, wondered board chairman Darrel Drown.

"If you've ever been close to a commercial jet take-off," Mr. Henning said, you would have some idea. "That's at the threshold of pain."

Despite the high sound levels during what Mr. Henning said was one of the louder concerts this summer, sound levels were somewhat lower at the proposed apartment site about 500 feet away.

In addition, the Rouse Co., which owns the pavilion as well as the proposed apartment site, promised to add a series of sound baffles and structural improvements to the pavilion.

Those improvements would bring noise levels down to about 55 decibels on the property, Mr. Henning said. That would be at the state nighttime residential noise limit, which goes into effect at 10 p.m. County law imposes the same limit after 11 p.m.

Mr. Henning also took measurements at the Hootie and the Blowfish concert June 23, mainly to measure what pavilion management considered the loudest crowd noise. Those levels were comparable to the Ted Nugent concert, he said.

The testimony did not impress Paul Farragut, the former County Council member who derailed an identical proposal in 1991.

"I would question whether you really have an accurate study," Mr. Farragut said.

He expressed dismay that Mr. Henning did not prepare a written report and said the study should have measured noise 40 feet in the air to see what upper-floor apartment dwellers would hear.

Like other opponents, Mr. Farragut also criticized the conversion of commercial land to residential land, which he said would erode the county's tax base.

The three- and four-story apartments, condominiums and townhouses that Rouse wants to build next to Symphony Woods on 12 acres behind The Mall in Columbia are part of the company's plan to enliven Columbia's downtown.

The rezoning package also seeks to annex 135 acres of the former General Electric Appliance Park East, off Snowden River Parkway behind the Snowden Square shopping center. The industrial-zoned land would be converted to Columbia's unique new town zoning but the actual use of the property would not change significantly.

The annexation would increase the total acreage of Columbia, however, which would allow the company to build about 300 additional homes elsewhere in the city.

Testimony in the zoning case will resume at 8 p.m. today, and the Zoning Board is likely to schedule a work session to deliberate before rendering its decision.

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