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Village agrees to explore options on playground noise

FLAT ROCK — Confronted by a roomful of emotional and angry homeowners from Highland Golf Villas, the Flat Rock Village Council agreed to look at possible solutions to muffle noise from the town’s new playground.

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The playground at the Park at Flat Rock has attracted what one might expect — children who giggle and squeal and moms who shout warnings. For the villa residents, the play area has brought a radical change in their environment. Three years ago, they lived next door to a lightly used golf course. Now the neighboring land is a heavily used park, which besides the playground has walking trails, picnic tables and a pavilion.
“It’s what amounts to a de facto condemnation,” Doug Johnson, a retired architect who lives near the playground, told the Village Council. “Not a single one of you fine people would put up in your backyard what you’ve put in our backyard. It’s defied common sense. … I wish I could bring you folks over every day. It’s that perpetual thing where you can’t plan a dinner on your own deck, you can’t have friends on your screen porch, you can’t plan a party in your backyard. We all knew it was going to be a park and we knew it had kids. You guys have taken the rubber band and pulled it as far as it can go. We’re totally disgusted in what has happened.”
Flat Rock Mayor Bob Staton said that the playground was sited where it was because it needed to be near the parking lot and the bathrooms. There’s some buffering between the play area and the homes but the neighbors want a sound barrier or, better yet, they want the Village Council to move the playground away.
Although council members did not rule that out, they said it would not be simple or cheap.
“First of all you have to grade the site,” Staton said. “You can’t just, as one gentleman suggested, bring a crane in and pick it up and move it.”
As an immediate response, the council members agreed to move picnic tables further away from Highland Golf Villa homes and temporarily wall off a large pipe that seems to invite little children to scream. A $5,000 sound study the council ordered concluded that the noise generally was no louder than conversational level but that intermittent high-pitched screams of children could be an annoyance. Residents of the development, which has 44 homes, said the tunnel amplifies sound.
The council agreed to plug the tunnel for two weeks and then ask residents whether that made a difference. Some said that might help but others pointed out that the high-rise design of the playground with its four towers allows sound to carry. Even a sound barrier would not work, they added, unless it was very high. Estimates of a new landscaped berm to block noise have run as high as $100,0000.