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Steeler decibel levels are set

North Side groups irked by decision, want lower limits

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Correction/Clarification: (Published June 28, 2000) North Side community groups pressed the city Planning Commission to set lower noise limits than the Steelers wanted at the new Heinz Field. Due to an editing error, a story on the feud in yesterday's editions mistakenly suggested the groups wanted higher (that is, noisier) limits.

The city Planning Commission approved noise limits yesterday for the new Steelers stadium, infuriating North Side residents and community groups who insisted they were far too low.

The commission voted 5-2 to allow the stadium, to be called Heinz Field, to have sound limits "that don't materially differ" from those that were in effect at Three Rivers Stadium.

Undaunted, the North Side groups vowed to carry their fight tomorrow to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, where they will urge the board not to approve any signs identifying the stadium as Heinz Field. The signs were a key element of the $57 million naming-rights deal the Steelers just inked with the ketchup maker.

John DeSantis, president of the Allegheny West Civic Council, contended that "no signs at all" are permitted in the riverfront district where the football stadium is located. The only way the stadium signs can be erected is if the Zoning Board of Adjustment grants a variance, a move DeSantis says he'll strongly oppose.

DeSantis said he hoped the Steelers would lower the noise levels in exchange for residents' dropping their opposition to the signs. "If the Steelers decide they want to trade peace of mind in our homes for signs on the stadium, our door is open to talk," he said.

Residents of Allegheny West, Manchester and Central North Side told the Planning Commission that the Three Rivers Stadium limits were too liberal and allowed far too much "ambient sound" to escape the stadium and drift into their neighborhoods.

"You don't need to buy tickets to Steeler games," said Shemariah Waggoner of Manchester. "You can sit in my house and hear what's said in the stadium."

Mary Frances Barbush said she held a birthday party for her daughter on a Steelers Sunday and "the news about Jerome Bettis' yardage was louder inside my house than the children singing Happy Birthday."

"We understand we live in the city and there is noise in the city," said Ray Meyer of the Northside Leadership Conference, "but we should have the opportunity to sit in our kitchens and not hear the Steeler game."

Susan Brandt, who lives in the Trimont on Mount Washington, supported the North Siders, saying noise from the stadium also affects residents of Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights across the river.

"It's not just an occasional cheer -- it's a continued loud activity over three hours that is disruptive to your lifestyle," she said.

DeSantis said he thought he had reached an agreement with the Steelers on Monday to keep stadium-related noise in nearby neighborhoods to no more than 55 decibels.

Based on testing done for the Steelers during a game at Three Rivers in September 1999, decibel levels on Ridge Avenue, Allegheny Avenue and other North Side streets reached as high as 65 decibels -- a level that residents said is so high they can't even hold conversations inside their homes.

"Freeway traffic is 70 decibels," said DeSantis.

Steelers stadium project manager Heidi Edwards and an outside sound consultant, Jack Wrightson, said the noise level on the field would be about 90 decibels. In response to residents' demands to "turn the dial down," he said that if the sound of speakers inside the stadium were less than 85 decibels, announcements couldn't be heard over the crowd noise.

The Steelers are using a "clustered" sound system, with large speakers grouped at the scoreboard at the open, southern end of the stadium, pointing north, toward the neighborhoods outside.

There also will be some smaller speakers in the upper portion of the stadium canopy stretching along the sidelines. As of now, there are no plans to hang speakers in the north end of the stadium pointing south, but the Steelers said they would consider that if city officials and residents found the noise too loud.

Adding those speakers could cost between $700,000 and $2 million, Wrightson said.

Stephen Leeper, director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority, which will own the stadium, said he had worked hard to try to reach a compromise between residents and the Steelers.

PNC Park has a "distributed" sound system with dozens of smaller speakers that don't "throw" the stadium sound as far as the Steelers stadium speakers do, DeSantis said.

DeSantis said that since he lost on the noise-level issue, he would take another tack -- opposing the package of 49 signs the Steelers want to erect outside and inside the stadium.

DeSantis said residents would hire a land-use lawyer to represent them at tomorrow's Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing, but wouldn't say if he would go to court if the board granted the variance needed for the stadium signs.

The biggest sign would be a red, internally lit sign with letters 12 feet high, to be located on the back of the scoreboard -- facing the Point and Downtown.

Arthur Lubetz, a local architect, opposed such a large Heinz sign at the confluence of the three rivers but Davitt Woodwell, director of the Riverlife Task Force, supported the sign.

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