Make Noise About the Noise

A committee takes another look at Davis-Monthan noise in central Tucson

The thundering sound of overhead military jets accompanied by the rattling of their homes is a frequent experience of midtown residents. Additionally etched into their minds is the date Oct. 25, 2004.

Ignoring the advice of its Planning Commission and the pleas of many central city residents, the City Council voted 6-1 that evening to adopt stringent zoning regulations for property near the flight path of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Rushing to have the land-use restrictions in place before the Base Realignment and Closure process, the ordinance also labeled 8,000 homes located in high noise zones off both ends of D-M's runway as being "incompatible with residential use."

Now that BRAC is over, and D-M didn't get helped or hurt too much by it, a second look is being taken at the land-use ordinance, along with the noise impacts of overflights. First established a few months ago, and expected to meet through June, the Military Community Compatibility Committee is using about $30,000 in funding from various governments and facilitation services provided through the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution.

Speaking for himself, committee member Bruce Dusenberry Jr., vice president of the base support group DM-50, indicates there is no question there are important issues to be addressed. "Jets generate undesirable noise when they fly over homes," he said, "and anything we can do to minimize that is what we want to do." Dusenberry thinks the committee should look at options for accomplishing that goal while keeping the air base operating.

At a meeting last week, attended by about 25 committee members and 20 interested spectators, Gail Cordy laid out the problems she and other midtown residents face. Displaying self-generated noise data, Cordy stressed it is often above a noisy 65-decibel threshold inside her home, and occasionally over the much-louder 75-decibel level.

Among those affected by this noise, Cordy said, are children and anyone with interrupted sleep patterns. "It is really getting people upset," she declared.

Believing noise has invaded the neighborhoods northwest of D-M, Cordy suggested possible dire consequences if the problem isn't addressed. People expect to lose property value in their homes, she said, while seeing a lower owner-occupancy rate in their neighborhoods. The end result, Cordy predicted, could be a pattern of community disinvestment in the midtown area.

Bill DuPont, who lives near Reid Park, surprised some at the meeting. After checking with two real estate agents familiar with the situation, as well as the Pima County Assessor's Office, Dupont reported he could find no evidence that being in a high-noise zone impacts a home's value. Despite that, Cordy and a few others insisted they would have thought twice about buying their homes if they knew what they were getting into concerning noise and overflights.

Committee member Nancy Laney, director of the Tucson Botanical Gardens, urged those attending to remember noise also has outdoor impacts, and that Tucson has an outdoor lifestyle. "Don't relegate midtown to being an indoor environment," she emphasized.

Longtime area resident Dr. Herb Abrams told the committee: "We need to reverse the vote of Oct. 25, 2004. We can't accept midtown becoming a blighted ghetto."

Seeking comments on these and other related issues, the group is sponsoring a public forum on Wednesday, Dec. 14. Information will be provided about the committee process, and those attending will each have 90 seconds in which to give their input on the problems involved, along with possible solutions.

For his part, Dusenberry hopes the City Council retains most of the 2004 ordinance but makes some revisions. "They should look at the pieces that negatively impact midtown residents," he said. "They need to (also) find ways to ameliorate the 'incompatible with residential use' language."

As for reducing overflight noise, Dusenberry said he has some ideas and knows others do. "Maybe there are some operational things to look at," he said of military flying practices.

Sam Hughes neighborhood resident Paul Mackey is not convinced the committee will do anything substantive. As the group was getting started a few months ago, his neighborhood association declined to formally participate, in part because of the makeup of the committee, along with the limitations being suggested--but apparently not implemented--on contacts with the media.

At that time, Mackey said it looked as if the committee would just be a group discussion which came up with some innocuous statements at the end. After the latest meeting, he can't predict what will happen.

Someone who has no problem guessing what will happen to him and his small parcel of Rita Ranch commercial property is Patrick Callahan (See "Development Derailed," Currents, May 12, 2005). After the City Council adopted the D-M land use ordinance, Callahan was told by the Board of Adjustment that his subdivided but vacant land was not developed enough to be grandfathered out of the zoning restrictions.

Based on that, Callahan applied to have the property bought by the Pima County Open Space Advisory Committee, which is using $10 million of bonds funds to acquire land near D-M. "The committee determined the property is developed," he recalled with exasperation, "and thus isn't eligible. My land is being held hostage, and I don't know why."