The sound of Costco: Neighbors fret over unwanted noise

Donald Healy, who lives in a townhome on Commonwealth Drive behind Costco, says deafening noise coming from the fans on top of the wholesale store prohibits him from enjoying the solitude of his backyard. Photo by Martyn Kyle Donald Healy, who lives in a townhome on Commonwealth Drive behind Costco, says deafening noise coming from the fans on top of the wholesale store prohibits him from enjoying the solitude of his backyard. Photo by Martyn Kyle

It’s like a twin-engine plane” is how an Albemarle County resident and local teacher describes the noise that now overpowers the quiet bustle and birdsong of his once-peaceful backyard.

Donald Healy and his wife live in a townhome on Commonwealth Drive, behind the recently opened Costco in the Stonefield shopping center. Their home is situated atop a hill, putting it in line with the roof of the massive wholesale store, which is decorated with an array of heating and cooling units.

The Healys were accustomed to unwanted noise since the construction of the big-box store began, but they were under the impression that, when finished, the neighborhood’s ambiance would be quieter.

On the day of Costco’s grand opening, Healy says the fans running on top of the building sounded like a small airport.

“It was deafening,” he says. “Sometimes you sit out there and it’s just too much to bear.” But it’s not just his backyard, he says, acknowledging that several neighbors are even closer to the new store. Even inside in Healy’s two back bedrooms with the windows closed, “you can still hear it,” he says.

His wife, Sarah, reached out to local officials. Lisa Green, the Albemarle County code compliance officer, took a noise meter out to the Healys’ neighborhood for measurements. At the property line, where she is required to measure noise, the readings were just below the noise ordinance. But because the backyards of the homes on Commonwealth Drive are elevated on a hill, Green noted that the readings went slightly above the ordinance when she stepped farther into a home’s backyard.

“This is something we deal with constantly with new construction,” she says.

According to Brad Sheffield, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors’ representative for the Rio District, there was a similar issue with Gander Mountain on 29 North. The store backed up against backyards and the air conditioning units were level with the homes. Though Sheffield was not a supervisor at this time, he says he’s been told the developer complied and reduced the noise.

Calling the noise bouncing off of Costco “just a hum,” Green says she still sympathizes with the Healys and understands that their backyard was once a very quiet place, so even the slightest noise could be irritating.

Green notified the developers, who she says were “exceptionally responsive,” and within days, they had created a plan to muffle the noise.

“They are committed to being good neighbors,” Green says.

According to Costco’s regional manager Anita Schwartz, the developers planned to conduct their own noise test at press time to determine whether placing baffles around the heating and cooling units or removing some from the roof will be most effective in reducing the noise. She says the results will come back in two weeks.