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Rooftop Racket

Store's owner promises fix noise problem.

The constant buzzing is getting to Leman Basar. "I can't sleep with that noise," Basar said, a part-time caregiver for Herndon resident Virginia Haines. "It bothers me all the time."

Basar is referring to the recent addition to the Bestway Supermarket in the Pines Shopping Center behind the Haines' Jefferson Street home. The pre-manufactured machine room and heating and refrigeration system is nearly 30-feet long and more than 8-feet tall, and, according to neighboring residents, it is loud.

"Very loud," Basar said. "And it is on all times of day."

Basar started in August caring for Haines, who has lived in her house at 751 Jefferson St. for more than 60 years and, as part of her round-the-clock care, Basar spends around three nights a week sleeping on the living room sofa. "It sounds like there are trucks running back there, but there aren't any there when I look," she said. "It is especially bad in the middle of the night. I hope something can be done about it. Trust me, it is bothersome, we have to sleep."

For her part, Haines says she hasn't been bothered by the steady rattle and hum from the neighboring grocery store. "I know some of them have complained," she said, pointed to Basar. "But I have hearing aids, and when I turn them off, I can't here a thing. Who knew? I guess these things are a blessing."

Basar, who is originally from Turkey, said she would love to sleep with ear plugs, but her job description doesn't allow it. "I couldn't hear Miss Virginia if she called and needed me when I was sleeping," Basar said. "I was putting cotton balls in my ears, but I realized I can't do that. I just can't."

<b>ACCORDING TO TOWN ATTORNEY </b>Richard Kaufman, there is no ordinance on the books for commercial zoning areas. Noise-related zoning ordinances only apply to industrial, not commercial areas, Kaufman told the Town Council at the Dec. 4 work session.

"The original application was filed with no indication that the heat exchange units would be on top," said Henry Bibber, director of community development. "The architectural review board file also had no mention of the fan units."

Bibber added that, in his opinion, there is no question that it is the heat exchange unit which is causing the noise.

In the architectural review board's Sept. 10 staff report, staff did question the rooftop addition. "Staff does not believe that the existing trees and cooling tower will sufficiently screen the proposed addition on the rear and side elevations," it read. "Town staff believes that the machine room, as currently proposed, will have an adverse visual impact. Additional measures should be taken to further screen the proposed structure."

Ultimately, the staff recommended the approval given the owner complied with the staff's recommendation for additional screens.

Despite the clear language, the self-contained unit was put in place, by a crane, in October, without any additional screens.

"I don't know why the fan units escaped the ARB," Bibber said.

<b>SAM ZINGARO HAS LIVED </b>in his home on the corner of Jefferson and Monroe streets for four years. With his home situated behind the Pines Shopping Center, Zingaro said he is fed up with the noise from the store's machine room. "I've heard it since the day it was turned on in mid-October," he said. "I even noticed it before the HVAC unit was put into place. I just couldn't believe it was going to the top of the building. Wrongly, I assumed there would be screens."

Zingaro says he can feel vibration from the machine when he is in his master bathroom or when he is sitting watching television. "It's at all hours and it sounds like a helicopter," he said. "From now on, I think I will pay close attention to zoning meetings."

To address the concerns of neighbors like Basar and Zingaro, the town is looking into what can legally be done to fix the problem. Douglas P. Koehn, a noise consultant with Miller, Beam & Pagnelli, a McLean-based company, was hired by the town to test the sound levels.

"It can probably be moved," Koehn said, while conducting a preliminary test behind the Haines' home on Jefferson Street. "It seems to be just the fans making the noise," he said. "The compressors and the condensers are sealed in a sound-enclosed box. It's just the 12 fans on top that are causing the noise."

Koehn said he thought one solution would be to move fans away from the Jefferson side over to the Elden Street side of the roof-top unit. "That way more noise would be deferred by the parking lot and the street," he said.

Koehn said he thought that there would be a way to shield the fans from the homes on Jefferson. On the morning of Wednesday's test, the store was only utilizing two the machine's 12 fans because of the cool weather. On a warm summer day, all 12 of the cooling fans could be running, he said. "While it sounds loud right now," the consultant said, "it is important to understand that it won't get to be six times as loud as it currently is. It may get twice as loud as it is."

<b>HWAN CHOI, THE NEW OWNER </b>of Bestway Supermarket, said he was aware of the town's displeasure with his store's cooling unit, but he said that he had only received one complaint from the public about it.

While Choi says he has received few complaints, vice mayor Carol Bruce said she has received dozens since the unit was first placed on the roof. "Just about everyone who lives on Jefferson has complained to me about the noise and view," she said.

Choi, who opened his store in October, admitted that his new unit was "louder than I expected." Choi said he blamed the company — the Hill-Phoenix Company — who installed it. The previous unit was attached to the building and surrounded by cinderblocks, whereas this machine rests on top of the roof. "I think this one has more vibration because it is on the roof," he said.

Besides the noise, residents and members of the Town Council have complained about the machine's size and dominating presence atop the new grocery store. "We went through all the correct channels to get it approved," Choi said. "But we weren't aware of how it would look, until it was finished."

Choi said he wants to be a good neighbor. "It will cost some money," he said. "But we should make the best effort to be part of our new community. Whatever it takes, I will fix it. We will take care of it for our neighbors."