Exit of the Pelham Car Wash, operated by the Car Wash Guys, in Fonthill. DON RICKERS

Hurricane residents still not sold on sound barrier

A zoning variance for a 160-foot-long, 15-foot-high fence — perhaps better described as a noise barrier — has been approved by Pelham Town Council for 151 Highway 20 East, the site of an automated car wash that abuts Hurricane Road, which has been a focus of local ire of late owing to what some nearby residents say is its excessive noise.

Fire Chief Bob Lymburner described the steel and concrete structure, planned for the north side of the car wash, as akin to industrial-standard walls typically seen on highways to block road noise from adjacent housing developments.

“I can’t guarantee you that this is going to keep the residents quiet,” said Lymburner in a presumably unintended Freudian slip, “but I think that, working with the owners, this measure is going to solve the problem.”

Councillor John Hildebrand cautioned council that in his experience, such fences, despite their height, do not necessarily block sound effectively, and that “noise is going to go over top of the fence.”

Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens was asked by Councillor Wayne Olson if a building permit was required for such a large barrier. Wiens responded that the wall is not a designated structure under the Ontario building code, and accordingly no permit is required.

Olson acknowledged and voiced appreciation for car wash owner Gail Levay’s 50 years of business in Pelham, and her long service as a founding member of the local Rotary Club. “Our bylaw enforcement is based on tolerance, compromise, patience, and eventually compliance,” he said, and suggested that the appropriate solution was to modify or refurbish the dryer-blowers within the car wash machinery.

“The fence that’s being proposed is doing something totally different than what we’re expecting here,” said Olson, who suggested that rows of trees at the property boundary would better serve the “community aesthetic.”

All we’ve ever wanted was a sane look at what’s causing the noise, namely the old, worn-out dryers

Councillor John Wink rebutted some of Olson’s comments. He said that Town staff have been working diligently to find a solution to the noise problem, and that the car wash owner has changed the traffic flow of the car wash such that the blowers are now at the front of the building, facing away from Hurricane. He didn’t see deciduous trees as being an appropriate screen for a facility that operates throughout all four seasons.

“I look at that the fence as an opportunity,” said Wink, who put forward a motion that perhaps slightly reducing the hours of operation of the car wash could mitigate the situation. CAO David Cribbs suggested that staff prepare a report on the matter. “We can provide you with some analysis of options and implications that are worth exploring,” said Cribbs.

Councillor Ron Kore said that car wash owner Levay “went through hell last week, and I don’t think it was fair to her. She’s trying to do her best and solve this problem to the best of her abilities. She has hired probably the best contractor in the region, Tom Rankin. I think it will help with some of the noise, but it’s never going to disappear.”

Inquiring about the Pelham noise bylaw, Councillor Marianne Stewart asked if it specified a standard in decibels at which the sound became objectionable. Lymburner responded that “It’s at the point of reception, and it’s whatever the complainant perceives is annoying or disturbing.” He added that “the owners of this property have done everything we’ve asked them to do…they’ve dealt with us in good faith.”

Lymburner said he was confident that the wall will be properly engineered and installed, and added that, “This is a good opportunity for us to amend the overall noise bylaw, because there are a few other things that we need to fix in it.”

Cribbs explained that revising the bylaw was a half-year proposition, and would require significant public consultation.

A motion was ultimately passed that council direct staff to provide a report providing options and implications with respect to the carwash operating hours, and that council receive a staff report regarding amendments to the Town’s noise bylaw by December 2021. The variance allowing the oversized fence was also passed, with Olson being the lone dissenting vote.

Pat Gray, who lives on Hurricane Road and is a spokesperson for the residents, told the Voice that the proposed wall’s dimensions make it three feet taller than the average height of the Berlin Wall.

“Chief Lymburner has a clear bias towards commercial when speaking of the barrier fence,” said Gray. “The barrier is to keep the car wash quiet, not simply pacify the residents to shut them up.”

Gray insists that the barrier wall was never the residents’ idea. “All we’ve ever wanted was a sane look at what’s causing the noise, namely the old, worn-out dryers. Many residents believe Mr. Lymburner needs to give his head a shake and apologize for that insulting statement,” said Gray.

Gray and other neighbours have been subject to harassment by friends of Gail Levay for their noise complaints.

Mike Gallagher, who is an engineer with Rankin Construction, and also Levay’s son-in-law, is the point-person on the wall construction job. Given the green-light by council, he said in a telephone interview that they were “in the process of getting locates, and getting ready to get going.”

Gallagher asked if the Voice reporter was an “ambassador for the residents,” which prompted a reply that the newspaper’s intent was to objectively report on a matter of community interest. Asked if he felt that the Voice’s reporting had been biased, he answered, “Oh, absolutely. Yeah.”

But, as Gallagher added as the conversation concluded, “I guess you’ll never please everybody.”