Leaf Grinder Revisited

Leaf Grinder Revisited

Board of Zoning Appeals to consider renewing special use permit for leaf grinder on Beulah.

For residents on the north side of Vienna, the leaf grinder in the vacant lot off Beulah Road continues to be concern. These homeowners, take issue with noise levels emanating from the grinder. Many of them are members of the North East Vienna Citizens Association (NEVCA), Vienna’s largest civic association with 190 members.

"The impacts of noise on health is a serious issue … there are a lot of articles in top magazines about the effect of noise on the human body," said Adele Freidel, a close neighbor to the grinder.

To investigate residents’ complaints of the noise, the Town of Vienna, which operates the grinder from October to March, hired acoustic consultants Miller, Beam and Pagianelli, Inc. to measure the noise levels at the Beulah Road property. According to the April 22 report, measured average noise levels at different sites around the grinder ranged from 73 dBA (about the same as a gas lawn mower 100 feet away) to 54 dBA (a quiet city street in the daytime). A temporary enclosure was put up around the grinder, said the report, and the consultants measured noise levels ranging from 60 dBA to 49 dBA.

Freidel is not happy with the results, however, claiming that the consultants should have measured peak noise levels, not averages. During leaf-mulching season, she said, the grinder operates for short periods during the day, not all day, and so averaged measurements (which incorporate periods of relative quietude) turn out too low.

The town is following the report’s recommendation and building a 12-foot-tall insulated sound barrier around the grinder. Such a barrier would reduce noise levels by 10 dBA, said the report.

"It should be up before the next leaf season begins," said Mayor M. Jane Seeman. "It’s going to go long way to prevent noise."

Freidel also disagrees with this, saying that the noise levels would only be reduced by 5-7 dBA. Freidel is not an acoustic professional, but has been researching noise for the past two years and considers herself well-versed in the subject. She and other neighbors hired noise expert Gary Whiele of Whiele Labs to take a separate set of acoustic readings. She has also been in e-mail contact with Dr. Mike Stinson, chairman of the Technical Committee on Noise for the Acoustical Society of America, who helped her with a presentation on her own findings that she will present at the July 20 Board of Zoning Appeals meeting.

Members of the Town Council maintain that the leaf-mulching operation is a valuable service for the community and should stay.

"I support the town’s application to the Board of Zoning Appeals to request the new conditional use permit and keep the operation in place," said Councilmember Laurie Genevro Cole. "If the permit fails, we’ll find some way to keep providing the leaf collection to citizens."