Huntington Woods commission OKs noise ordinance for zoo, residents

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published June 24, 2015


HUNTINGTON WOODS — Following months of inquiries and studies by both Huntington Woods city officials and residents, the City Commission passed a noise ordinance amendment during the June 16 meeting that set a maximum decibel level for the entire city and the Detroit Zoo.

About a year ago, the former city planner suggested that the City Commission exempt the Detroit Zoo from the city’s ordinance, as the way it was written entailed regulating animal noise, which the city felt wasn’t realistic.

However, when the Dinosauria exhibit was announced to be coming back to the zoo this summer for the first time since 2011, City Manager Amy Sullivan said many residents looked into the noise ordinance, as they felt the exhibit was a nuisance when it was last in the area.

After several public meetings between Detroit Zoo officials and nearby communities, as well as numerous sound testings done by Huntington Woods officials, the commission unanimously passed the ordinance amendment that restricts all noise to be at 65 decibels or lower, 24 hours a day.

“It took some time as we gauged noise from Dinosauria and other zoo events to have an idea of how noisy they were in terms of decibels,” Sullivan said. “We wanted to know what was too loud and what was offensive or not offensive. We wanted to wait until the Zoo Brew, the first event with amplified noise, and wait until Dinosauria to get readings and know what was actually happening and how loud it was.”

With several residents — mostly from Huntington Woods, as the north border of the zoo backs up against a neighborhood — asking for the zoo to make changes on how amplified noise is handled with Dinosauria and late-night events, the zoo held public meetings in February and June to discuss options.

The Dinosauria exhibit opened May 22 and runs through September.

At the June meeting, zoo officials said they moved many of the loud exhibits away from the north fence and turned all speakers to face southbound for late events, as well as spent $42,000 on the installation of noise-absorption panels.

The zoo also instituted a maximum decibel reading of 60 for all zoo events. The Huntington Woods ordinance originally called for a maximum level of 70 decibels during the day and 65 at night, but Sullivan said after the maximum reading from the zoo came in at 62.5 decibels, officials felt comfortable setting the maximum level at 65 all day long.

“At the last two events, the highest was 62.5 decibels, so we thought 65 was a reasonable number and not offensive or annoying for the residents or the zoo,” she said. “There are logistics in how the sound reads, and we wanted to give the zoo and residents some wiggle room. We just didn’t want the level to negatively impact people’s quality of life.”

Sullivan said that as events began at the zoo, she and several commissioners went out to listen to the noise and take readings.

Compared to nearby cities, Royal Oak has a maximum decibel level of 75 during the day and 60 at night. In Ferndale, residents have a maximum level of 70 during the day and 60 at night, while the level is set at 75 and 65, respectively, for commercial properties. Berkley doesn’t have a specific decibel level in its noise ordinance.

After the efforts that the zoo took to work with residents and the nearby communities, Mayor Ron Gillham said he felt that those efforts combined with the noise ordinance would make a big difference.

“I think what we are doing is putting a number on things,” he said. “I am pleased with the effort the zoo has put forward thus far to help with noise, and I think the noise ordinance is quite strict and should resolve the issues.

“Noise is a very subjective thing. It is what you make of it, but sound is something we can measure. It is just a difficult thing to handle.”

If the zoo, residential or commercial property exceeds the maximum decibel level, Sullivan said the city would work with the party to lower the sound. If they do not comply, they could be given a ticket for violating the ordinance.