For over a year, seniors at the Westwinds on Third Avenue have been on a quest for something that most people in Squamish take for granted: Peace and Quiet. That has promoted seniors at the Westwinds building to form the ‘Peace and Quiet’ group as the noise from the neighbours—Shannon Falls’s HVAC systems—have made peace and quite elusive.
“This (noise from the chiller) has caused us headaches, sleepless nights, high blood pressure and just general anxiety, and there is nothing that has been done for the last year,” says Bryce Winter, a Westwinds resident who has led efforts to find a solution to the noise problem.
“I have not had a solid night’s sleep in over six months due to the extenuating and penetrating intermittent noise from the property. You can draw inferences about my stress levels and health impacts,” he says in a letter to the District of Squamish, which initially showed interest and even sent officials to take decibel readings, but they have since left the residents to their means.
Winter and his group have tried contacting councillors, but no one got back to them except for John French. Winter says he is disappointed in the councillors and Mayor Armand Hurford, whom he tried to contact twice. “I find it very insulting and disrespectful that he didn’t bother to respond to us.”
In a statement to the Squamish Reporter, the District said it investigates all complaints but won’t discuss specific cases. “The district investigates all regulatory Bylaw complaints in accordance with our Bylaw Enforcement Complaint Policy, and we endeavour to work with all parties to resolve the issues wherever possible,” the District said. “The District cannot discuss specifics of complaints, as we consider the details confidential to respect privacy issues.”
District also said that noise complaints are subjective. “At the time of installation, the equipment met all Building Bylaw requirements; therefore, the matter is in the hands of the property owners.”
When he moved into the new building, Winter said he immediately noticed the noise from the next-door chiller on the roof of Shannon Falls. The noise it emits is a loud screech that builds to a crescendo before it shuts down as abruptly as it starts. The system is on 24-7, and there is no saying for how long the noise will last or when it will return.
Winter said he and other residents called Shannon Falls, where the manager acknowledged several complaints but didn’t provide any specific plans to address them. He then complained to the District of Squamish, where they seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
Initially, the District bylaw officer Frank Rawlings came with his colleagues and took decibel readings but told residents that the District lacked the equipment to do check decibel levels properly. The seniors were surprised that the district’s bylaws didn’t regulate decibels but have now realized the DOS Noise Regulation Bylaw is toothless.
“I was not able to get approval for the decibel readings as our bylaw does not regulate decibels; we cannot use our bylaw to request a lower decibel from the property with the HVAC unit,” Rawlings wrote in one email to Winter. “The District of Squamish will not continue with this file, so your option now is to address this with Shannon Falls directly as a civil matter. I will be in contact with all of the complainants advising that the District cannot proceed with this complaint,” Rawlings wrote.
In July last year, the seniors also heard from Megan Latimer, the general manager of public safety, who told them the matter was thoroughly investigated by District staff. “Unfortunately, at this time, District staff are unable to proceed any further with this complaint, and we have had to close this file,” she wrote. “We encourage you to continue to follow up with Shannon Falls and Park Place directly regarding your concerns, and should those efforts fail, you can consider addressing it through the courts as a civil matter.”
Lina Saba, director of brand communications at Park Place Seniors Living, the company that owns Shannon Falls, said they have invested resources to deal with the issue, including installing a fence around the chiller. “When Shannon Falls was built, the building design and all related equipment were approved by the municipality. This includes the chiller on the top of the building that is now creating an issue for the residents in the new Westwinds building,” Saba said.
“In an effort to be a good neighbour, Park Place took several steps to investigate the complaints about the noise. This included conducting decibel readings at Westwinds and talking with residents about the complaints. We installed a fence with slats around the chiller which helped reduce the noise. Further impediment to this area will impact air circulation for our residents. We contract an HVAC company from the lower mainland to conduct semi-annual maintenance and reporting on the chiller. The most recent report indicates noise levels were normal for this type of chiller. We then installed a new sound blanket on the unit. This also further reduced the decibel readings. The unit is well maintained.
She continued: “It is unfortunate that the developer of Westwinds chose not to install air conditioning in a building for seniors. This means that residents need to open windows regularly. Open windows increase the impact of the noise from the chiller. Unfortunately, the municipality chose to approve the building design, which is extremely close to Shannon Falls. Westwinds is also two stories higher than Shannon Falls. These factors all impact the amplification of the noise from the chiller. These factors were well out of Park Place Seniors Living’s control. Sadly, residents at Westwinds are suffering the consequences.”
Laura Modray, the executive director of Squamish Senior Living Society, says a survey she did among the residents indicated that 28 percent of those who responded have lost sleep regularly, while 42 percent have lost sleep on a few occasions, though 30 percent also reported they didn’t lose sleep from the noise.
Residents like Bryce Winter and others are dismayed by the district’s stonewalling and lack of any interest by their elected representatives. “We need clear and transparent regulation, which we don’t have in our community. And I can tell you that people here are not impressed with the council or the mayor.”