‘Invasive’ noise: Neighbor baffled by persistent sound

In a photo from September, Donald Healy stands in his backyard where he said noise from the recently developed Costco behind his townhouse was deafening. Now that a noise baffling project is complete, Healy says it still sounds just as loud. Photo by Martyn Kyle In a photo from September, Donald Healy stands in his backyard where he said noise from the recently developed Costco behind his townhouse was deafening. Now that a noise baffling project is complete, Healy says it still sounds just as loud. Photo by Martyn Kyle

In September, C-VILLE Weekly reported that neighbors living near the recently constructed Costco on U.S. 29 North complained of loud noises produced by fans on top of the building. Representatives of the massive wholesale store agreed to baffle the noise, and the project is now finished. However, according to one neighbor, the noise not only persists, but could be louder than before.

Donald Healy, a local elementary school teacher, lives in a townhouse on Commonwealth Drive, behind Costco in The Shops at Stonefield. His home is situated atop a hill, putting it in line with the roof of the store, which is covered in heating and cooling units.

“With the leaves off the trees, it’s even louder,” Healy says about the persisting sound. During the quietness of a recent storm that blanketed the area in approximately 20 inches of snow, he called the noise “deafening.” The “invasive” noise varies in decibel level, he says, but it’s often unbearable—as he lies in bed near closed windows he can almost always hear it.

Healy was surprised to learn that the sound baffling project is now completed.

According to Jeff Rudder, Costco’s director of real estate development for the eastern region of the U.S., a crew wrapped up the project at the beginning of February, and though “it didn’t happen quite as fast as we wanted it to,” he says, the actual installation of the baffles only took a few days. The sound study, design and baffle manufacture took five months to complete. And although Rudder says this type of noise reduction has likely been installed at other Costco locations, he has never instituted it on one of his projects.

Healy says he can drive by Walmart on a road that’s level with the store’s roof and not even hear a hum. County code compliance officer Lisa Green says that people living near Walmart have never complained about noise pollution, and she isn’t sure why that store emits less noise than Costco. In September, Brad Sheffield, Albemarle supervisor for the Rio District, said there was a similar issue with Gander Mountain on 29 North, where the store’s air conditioning units were backed up against a row of homes. Though Sheffield was not a supervisor at this time, he says he’s been told the developer complied and reduced the noise.

Green took the initial Costco reading in September in a neighbor’s backyard behind the store. At the property line, where she is required to measure noise, the reading was 52 decibels, just under the daytime residential noise limit of 60 decibels.

But because the backyards of the homes on Commonwealth Drive are on a hill, Green noted in September that the readings went slightly above the ordinance limit when she stepped farther into a home’s backyard and closer to Healy’s property.

Since the sound-reduction project’s completion, Green says a neighbor who lives directly behind the store said the noise has lessened.

Rudder, who is aware of Healy’s concerns, says a crew will return to Costco for a secondary sound study in the coming weeks.

“We’ll see where we go from there,” he says.