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Gardens' neighbors hear sour notes: Homeowners not convinced measures will blunt sound from concerts

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By AJ Vicens

Homeowners near the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield are not convinced that repositioning the concert stage and adding landscaping will mean less music filling their ears on summer evenings.

But Botanic Gardens officials say changing the stage’s alignment — from facing almost directly north toward Chatfield Bluffs homes to facing northeast toward the intersection of C-470 and Wadsworth — should go a long way toward reducing the noise level for area homeowners.

“We’re not talking about Red Rocks here,” said Brian Vogt, CEO of the Denver Botanic Gardens. Vogt and the staff from the Gardens met with homeowners last week at the one-room schoolhouse on the Chatfield property.

Vogt said the plan is to realign the stage and create a grassy slope that will rise as concert-goers get farther from the stage. Berms will line both sides of the amphitheater, and trees will be planted to absorb sound. The project — with an estimated cost of $250,000 — will include an additional $150,000 for a new children’s feature and a new bridge, Vogt said.

“I’m not sure how the berm will control the sound,” said Clarence Kissler, president of the Chatfield Bluffs Homeowners Association. He added that the noise is a “major” concern for him and other homeowners, and asked Gardens staff how they plan to monitor noise at the site and in the nearby neighborhood.

Larry Vickerman, director of the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, said that a noise professional the Gardens has used for 15 years for concerts at the York Street property in Denver would monitor noise levels at Chatfield.

Dave Evans, a Chatfield Bluffs homeowner, told Gardens staff that the planned berms won’t block sound because the homes are above the Gardens. He also said he’s studied acoustics and found that some experts call it a “voodoo science” with little ability to effectively predict how sound will travel.

Chuck Biney, a homeowner from Chatfield Bluffs who’s also heard the music, said he’s had to leave his house during concerts because of the bass and sound compression.

“It’s extremely annoying,” said Biney, who said he has years of experience with sound engineering and music, and is not opposed to loud music, per se.

“I hear what you’re saying,” Biney said. “But I’m kind of concerned about the noise level.”

Vogt emphasized that he wants a “great relationship” with area homeowners and will work to make that happen. He asked Biney and other concerned homeowners to work with the sound professional to address their concerns.

“I can’t understand how you think the sound won’t escape,” Biney said. “I think the thing to do is to be honest, and perhaps limit the hours.” The sound checks prior to the concerts are the loudest, Biney added.

Evans suggested that the Botanic Gardens leadership submit the project to the Jefferson County planning and zoning department, so that local residents can be part of the process.

Vickerman said that since the property is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, the county “didn’t want to mess with us.” Inquiries about the project have been made to the county, Vickerman added, but “they haven’t responded.”

Evans said he had talked to county planning officials about the situation.

“I’m glad you can get the planning department to call you back, because I can’t,” Vickerman said. He added that he’s willing to submit the project to the county and get its feedback.

“If they set it up with the county, even though they’re not obliged to, that would be nice,” Evans said after the meeting.

Mike Chadwick, a zoning administrator with Jeffco said that even though the Gardens is on federal land, a site-approval process still is necessary:

“We would like the Botanic Gardens to do a site approval process for the location so we can evaluate the impacts to the community and try to mitigate those,” Chadwick said.

Evans said the public process would help because, along with the noise concerns, he’s worried about traffic on Deer Creek Road and the number of cyclists in the area, along with the need for an examination of the impact on area wildlife.

“If we had a public meeting, we could address all these issues,” Evans said.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.