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Sports Center noise debate dominates Council agenda

Both sides in the ongoing dispute over noise from the New Richmond Sports Center complex said they would have preferred to sit down and quietly work out their differences.

Yet there they were, debating the issue for more than an hour at Monday night's City Council meeting.

While some progress seemed to be made during the discussion, more work remains.

A committee will be formed in the coming weeks to hammer out a more concrete solution. Several neighbors of the facility, representatives from the New Richmond Youth Hockey Association and City officials will be appointed to the committee.

The noise issue has escalated since the ice rink season started in early November.

Neighbors have called the Police Department on numerous occasions to complain about loud music and excessive public address system volume during tournaments and games. Complaint calls have also flooded in to rink volunteers at the Sports Center.

Neighbors claim the volume of noise from the sports center has increased over the past three years and claim that members of the New Richmond Youth Hockey Association have turned a deaf ear to the problem.

Michael Haugen, who has lived near the Sports Center for 18 years, said he could handle the noise and activity level at the facility for the first 15 years.

"But the level of activity and noise changed three years ago," he said. "It rose from occasional inconvenience to nuisance."

To make matters worse, Haugen charged, the Police Department has done nothing to enforce ordinances designed to protect residents from annoying noise.

"I have no confidence that the leadership of the police force is going to enforce the ordinances without direction of the City Council," Haugen said.

Police Chief Mark Samelstad and Building Inspector John Frisco have taken decibel readings around the Sports Center on several occasions to see if the noise exceeds limits outlined in City ordinances.

Samelstad said none of the readings go beyond the 70 decibel level established for daytime noise.

But neighbor Dan Hansen, husband of City Alderman Jane Hansen, said nuisance noise is prohibited at any level if even one neighbor complains about it.

"When peace is disturbed, it's a violation," he said. "I hear the music in my bedroom, it bothers me and it wakes me up. You can't make it go away and it makes you angry."

When he first moved into his home eight years ago, Hansen said the only annoying noise he could hear at the hockey rink was the buzzer that sounded when a goal was scored.

Today, Hansen claimed, he can feel the bass reverberate throughout his house.

"You have a system with the capacity to rock the neighborhood," Hansen told Hockey Association representatives. "We're not trying to shut you down. I just don't want to hear the music in my house."

Hansen also questioned the noise meter the City is using as it takes noise readings. The Radio Shack model isn't a professional-grade meter and should not be used to take official readings, he said.

Haugen said neighbors are asking the Hockey Association to turn down the music to levels three years ago.

He also asked the Association to establish a procedure for turning down the speakers when neighbors complain, noting that the organization is no longer sensitive to the concerns of nearby homeowners.

"I've noticed a real change in attitude in the people who run the organization," Haugen said.

Hockey Association volunteers said there has been no change in the way the Sports Center's sound system is operated over the years.

One speaker was moved when the new scoreboard was installed several years ago, but Association Vice President Mary Hailey said she doesn't understand how noise levels could have increased so dramatically.

Volume controls for the sound system are behind a locked door and levels are left at the established level, she added.

"We've not changed what we have done," she said. "We really feel like we're a good neighbor."

In a letter from the Hockey Association to the City Council, Board members noted that there had only been three noise complaints from 2003 to 2008. Since Nov. 1, about 10 complaints have been recorded.

"This is not the type of reputation we want," Hailey said.

Randy Calleja, past president of the Hockey Association, reminded the Council that the volunteer organization does a lot for kids and for the local economy.

A 16-team tournament this weekend will bring in hundreds of players and fans, who will spend money in the local economy, he noted.

If noise enforcement is applied evenly across the community, local day care operations and high school football games would likely be in violation, Calleja said.

He said the attack against the Hockey Association was giving a "black eye" to the organization and called on the City to continue to support the community's kids.

"Nobody is complaining about hockey as an activity," Haugen responded. "Don't try and make this as we're against kids or against hockey. We're asking that you be respectful and considerate of your immediate neighbors."

In response to recent complaints, the Sports Center has turned down the volume on its sound system the past three weeks.

Neighbors say since the volume was reduced, nuisance noise hasn't been an issue.

Haugen said if noise levels can revert back to levels experienced three years ago, all will be well in the neighborhood.

Hockey Association members said their wish is to resolve the matter amicably.

Hailey said the organization also wants neighbors to handle any future complaints in a professional manner. Hansen recently called the Sports Center to complain and vented his anger on the volunteer answering the telephone.

Hansen apologized for his anger. Neighbors said they would like the phone number of the appropriate contact person they should call with complaints in the future.

The Council directed Mayor David Schnitzler, who was absent from the meeting due to illness, to appoint a committee to continue work on the noise issue around the Sports Center.


In other business:

• The Council approved a motion to begin a condemnation order on a home at 309 North Third Street.

Building Inspector John Frisco said the house is owned by a financial institution in Connecticut but they have not responded to repair requests issued by the City.

The owner will now have 30 days to develop a plan for repairing the structure or condemnation would move ahead.

• The Council tabled action on the possible purchase of a home at 337 East Fifth Street. The home, owned by Bill Buell, was originally earmarked to become a parking lot for YMCA customers. But with the YMCA's future in the community in doubt, the City might look at the lot for possible additional parking near the Middle School site.

If the Middle School is converted into a new library and community space, extra parking may be needed.

At an earlier Finance Committee meeting, aldermen Jim Johnston and Jim Zajkowski said they'd prefer to wait a few months to see if they want to buy the property.

Once the City finds out the future of the Middle School property, then they will have a better idea of their need for more parking, Zajkowski said.