Ask Pat: Noise

relic57 asks—

Living on the corner of 6th and Victoria, I am one of hundreds of people adversely affected by the relentless construction noise by not one, but two towers underway at the same time. Just as the first one is winding down, the next has started. This is now three straight years of daily noise, often six days a week. The latest, the so-called ‘Beverly’ on the site of the demolished Masonic Hall, is in its excavation phase. It’s bad enough to have to endure the mind-splitting pneumatic drilling through the workweek, but the contractors (nameless for now) have no compunction whatever starting up at 7:00 a.m. Saturdays as well. This is six days a week where the noise can be so intense I am driven from my apartment.

This is not fair to me or the many others living nearby. These developments are not altruistically based, but purely profit driven. If I were to engage in some activity that disrupts a business, I could be liable. But developers can do anything they want, anytime they want, and they can buy their way into disrupting the little guaranteed quiet time people now have with special permits.

I have commented on this on Twitter (and engaged you a couple of times on other matters) and once received a reply from Mayor Cote informing me that the construction noise bylaws were going to be revised this spring. It is now spring. Nothing has apparently changed.

I have lived in New West for four years. The first year was great, the most quiet area I ever lived in. Then the ‘Novare’ started up across the street. Now the demolition of the hall, and work on the ‘Beverly’, literally next door. By the time that is finished, the Bosa twin tower monstrosity on the waterfront will be underway (we can all look forward to the pile-driving echoing up the hill for months or years, can’t we?), and maybe, just for fun, city hall will finally approve the over-height 618 Carnarvon proposal as well, only a block away from me. All together, seven or eight straight years of noise in total, capped by the probable demoviction from my own cheap walk-up once the area is gentrified enough.

So, what’s up with the noise? These bylaws were written when they built one little tower a year around here, if that–not ten. People don’t all go to work elsewhere anymore–they work at home, or they work shifts, or they’re retired. Why put us through this? These towers won’t even ease the accommodation crisis. They’re all aimed at high or relatively high earners–even the rentals.

There is a lot to unpack here, which is part of the reason it has taken me so long to address this Ask Pat that arrived this summer. I will try to concentrate on the sentences ending in question marks, in order:

“we can all look forward to the pile-driving echoing up the hill for months or years, can’t we?”
The Bosa Project on the waterfront will indeed require the driving of piles. However, this issue was discussed with the developer as part of their rezoning process. They have committed to using secant piles instead of sheet piles where possible along the periphery of the excavation. This more expensive technology was used recently for the Metro Vancouver pump station project in Sapperton (the big hole in the ground to the east you can see from the SkyTrain), creating much less disruption to the neighbourhood. They are also going to use vibratory driving of structural piles where viable. This technology is quieter, but does have other concerns around low-frequency vibration and potential impact on adjacent properties, so a Geotechnical Engineer will have to choose when this approach is, or is not, appropriate. Long story short – pile driving will be getting quieter, but won’t be going away.

So, what’s up with the noise?
Construction is noisy. Pile driving is disruptive, but so is pretty much every other aspect of building a modern building – hammering, drilling, pumping concrete and running of heavy equipment. The City has a Construction Noise Bylaw that exists separately from our regular Noise Bylaw, because of the special needs of construction sites, and the (relatively) short-term nature of any single construction site.

A proposal to update in the Construction Noise Bylaw came to Council in July, after Council asked Staff to address public concerns coming from the driving of piles for the two properties on either end of the McInnes Overpass. The update proposal included reducing construction hours on Saturday (you can go here to read the Minutes of the meeting where this was discussed), and discussed the changes in pile driving technology I already mentioned. The final draft of the Bylaw has not yet come to Council. The report indicated that our mid-week construction noise allowance was similar to other cities, but most cities allowed later starts and earlier ends of the Saturday construction schedule. We don’t allow construction on Sundays (except in your own home). So if the Bylaw is updated, I would expect it will bring us more in line with our neighbouring communities.

Why put us through this?
There is a lot of construction going on in the City, which should be no surprise to anyone. The region is growing, and the Downtown Community Plan includes a lot of new suites in order to allow people to live near our highest-service transit hubs. Both the tower recently completed next to you and the Masonic Lodge project went through extensive community review, including Public Hearings three or four years ago. In the intervening years, the regional housing crisis has further eroded the available housing, especially rental housing. Both projects are dedicated rental buildings, bringing (respectively) 282 and 151 rental suites on-line in a market where vacancy is currently 0.3%. It is hard to argue these types of developments are not an urgent need in our community.

Again, I recognize my answer is not going to satisfy you. Aside from stopping or construction of new homes (worsening our regional housing crisis) or regulating construction hours such that their construction is further delayed (potentially extending the number of months that disruptive noise is created while delaying bringing buildings on-line), I’m not sure what solution I can offer. I am open to suggestions.

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