Duke has taken steps to reduce the disturbance that campus activities create for its Durham neighbors, but not everyone is satisfied.
Some neighbors have complained that noise emanating from the University’s activities—on-campus concerts, sporting events or Duke-sponsored construction—makes it difficult to live nearby. However, not everyone in the Durham community agrees, and the University has also taken steps to work with community members to mitigate the problem.
“We’re neighbors and we should act neighborly,” said Laura Drey, a resident of Cranford Road who has complained about noise from Duke’s campus. “Duke is not a good neighbor.”
Drey explained that noise coming from on-campus events has significantly reduced her quality of life—making her unable to enjoy her back porch or be outside when music is coming from campus—to the point that she now plans to move.
Specifically, Drey said she feels the University does not give its neighbors fair advance warning about when concerts or sporting events on campus might create noise spillovers. She also noted that Duke concerts often violate Durham’s noise ordinances—which prohibit unduly loud music after 11 p.m. and before 7 a.m.
“Duke exists within Durham, so what applies to Durham residents and businesses applies to Duke,” Drey said.
However, not all of Duke’s neighbors share Drey’s point of view. William Slebos, a resident of Cranford Road for 13 years, said that for ten years noise coming from West Campus was a “horrible problem” but that it has ceased within the past two years.
“I don’t have any noise complaints anymore,” he said.
Slebos noted that prior to the past two years, events on Duke’s campus would regularly violate noise ordinances by continuing after 11 p.m. However, once he and other community members were able to get in touch with administrators—Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, and Associate Dean of Students Clay Adams—Duke began following the ordinances, Slebos explained.
In an email obtained by The Chronicle from September 2012, Moneta emailed Drey promising to abide by the noise ordinances and that “concerts will no longer continue beyond 11 p.m.”
Drey said that the University has done a better job of complying, but that it still often falls short and needs to communicate better with neighbors. Slebos, however, disagreed.
Slebos noted the existence of an “off-campus stakeholder” listserv that Adams uses to email residents in advance about potentially disturbing noise—such as Old Duke, the Last Day of Classes Concert or even move-in day. Slebos added that the University has rarely failed to give sufficient notice once this system was implemented. He added that noise from a college campus is to be expected and that residents who are sensitive to noise should choose not to live nearby.
Phail Wynn, vice president of Durham and regional affairs, wrote in an email that “it would be difficult to be in Durham and not know about [sporting events]” given their wide promotion in the community.
John Vandenberg, an adjunct professor in the division of environmental sciences and policy who also lives on Cranford, noted that hearing sporting events are for him one of the reasons many neighbors choose to live near a university campus.
“I’ve lived here for 31 years, and it’s part of the benefit of living at a campus, and I kind of like it actually,” he said.
Drey noted that she would like to see more of an effort from Duke to get public input from the community before making decisions—for example, concerning lighting at sporting events—rather than just informing neighbors ahead of time.
However, City Council member Don Moffitt said such negotiation would be challenging because of the lack of a uniform opinion among Durham neighbors.
“If Duke were to say we would consult with the neighbors, which neighbors?,” Moffitt asked. “At what point do we say they’ve met their standard. I’m not sure what that looks like.”
Apart from on-campus noise, however, neighbors have also expressed concern with construction near Duke’s campus. Both Vandenberg and Slebos agreed this could still be a disturbance—especially during breaks when students are not on campus.
Drey noted that construction vehicles have been heard as early as 2:30 a.m., violating noise ordinances. She also said that the clear-cutting of trees, for example near the University’s Stream and Wetland Assessment Management Park off West Campus, makes noise more problematic.
Curtis Richardson, director of the University’s Wetland Center, said that the trees have been replanted and are in the process of growing back to full height.
In multiple emails obtained by The Chronicle, David Bowden, a resident of Green Street near East Campus, wrote administrators with concerns about the new softball field under construction—including noise, traffic and parking impacts.
Wynn wrote that the University met with the residents of the Trinity Heights and Trinity Park neighborhood associations in January to discuss the softball field and noted that the city of Durham’s permitting process includes a “public comment” period as well.
In an email to Bowden obtained by The Chronicle, Patrick Young, assistant director for development at the Durham City-County Planning Department, confirmed that public hearings prior to zoning approval were advertised via direct mail and newspaper advertisements.
Ultimately, Moneta said that although the University will listen to neighbors’ concerns, there is a limit to what it can change besides continuing to ensure compliance with Durham’s laws.
“One of the realities is that there are extraordinary benefits that come from living near a university campus, and there are also occasions when living near a campus involves tolerating such noise,” Moneta said.
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