North Downtowners have long complained about the noise from Allied Concrete, which was established on industrially zoned Harris Street in 1945—just on the outskirts of a residential neighborhood.
Colette Hall, who has lived in downtown Charlottesville for 16 years and served on the North Downtown Residents Association board for 12, five as president, says the noise has persisted as long as she can remember. And it’s not just during the day. With normal operating hours from Monday to Saturday, Allied also has a third shift that sometimes works overnight.
With the constant clanging and banging and noise of the utility vehicles’ backup beepers,“You cannot sleep if this is going on all night long,” Hall says.
In 2002, she, City Attorney Craig Brown and then-NDRA president Chad Freckmann approached former Allied president Gus Lorber about the noise. He allegedly agreed to have the backup beepers silenced at night, Hall says, but she awoke to the familiar noise of incessant beeping soon after. At around 3am, she got dressed, marched over to the plant and confronted a man operating a utility vehicle. He agreed to silence it and she says she thought the battle was over.
“It seems to do some good for a while, but then things go back to the way they used to be,” says Mark Kavit, another former NDRA president who still serves on the board. He says he suspects between three and five couples have moved out of the neighborhood to elude the noise.
To this day, Hall says about Allied, “They haven’t been a friendly neighbor.”
But Ted Knight, the company’s current president, says, “We are good neighbors and stewards and try to be as courteous as possible.” In his three years of presidency, he says he hasn’t received any noise complaints. But with crews currently working up to four nights a week on a Route 29 solutions project, he says neighbors are probably hearing additional noise.
About those backup beepers, though? Regulations require backup alarms on Allied’s hulking utility vehicles for safety. “Those are things we can’t disable,” says Knight.
For William Hunter, a Nelson Drive resident since 2004, the beepers aren’t the biggest issue. He has recorded several nights’ worth of what he calls a “medley of very loud machinery,” and says the noise has become louder over the past several years. In a recording taken from his front doorstep at 3am last week, Hunter plays what he says sounds like a mortar shot or a loud snare drum going off in 30-second intervals.
The city’s noise ordinance says the maximum sound level for residential areas is 65 decibels during the day and 55 at night. No limits are imposed for industrially zoned areas, and Charlottesville Police say no calls for Allied-related noise have been received over the past year.
“I wouldn’t bother the police with a complaint when I know they are well within their rights to make as much noise as they need deem necessary,” Hunter says about the company.
The ordinance declares that “the people have a right to and should be ensured an environment free from excessive sound that may jeopardize the public health, welfare, peace and safety or degrade the quality of life; and that it is the policy of the city to prevent such excessive sound.”
“The city holds all the power,” Hunter says, acknowledging that no noise limits are imposed at Allied and some neighbors have been reluctant to bring the issue before city staff in the past. As part of a “peaceful protest,” he has constructed a Scrabble-style piece of folk art in his yard that uses words such as mitigate, buffer and please.
His house is just a five-minute walk from the Downtown Mall and Hunter says the city should be just as concerned about the effect of Allied’s noise on his neighborhood as they are of concerts and other events downtown. On any street in Charlottesville, there is legal recourse for a dog barking loudly, he says, and some similar enforcement should be in place for the “industrial roar” he lives next to, such as the construction of a buffer or wall.
“Noise pollution is a real thing and this is an extreme example of it,” Hunter says.
City staff isn’t always aware of situations that could be violations of city code, says spokesperson Miriam Dickler, though they are aware of past complaints against Allied. “If folks can contact us and let us know, it allows us to investigate and work with them on a faster timetable than waiting for us to come across it on our own.”
However, Allied’s president offers another perspective: “When you move next to a railroad track, you can’t complain about the train.”