Neighbors concerned about proposed Dickinson Conservatory

Neighbors concerned about proposed Dickinson Conservatory
The Encinitas Planning Commission unanimously approves plans for a nearly 10,000-square-foot events pavilion at the San Diego Botanic Garden, despite neighbors’ concerns over potential noise issues. Rendering courtesy San Diego Botanic Garden

ENCINITAS — The San Diego Botanic Garden’s proposal for a nearly 10,000-square-foot events pavilion is expected to get the Planning Commission’s stamp of approval on Thursday, but some neighbors are concerned about the project and the noise it could generate.

City staff has recommended the Planning Commission approve the Garden’s Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, a 9,300-square-foot state-of-the-art educational and community center proposed to be constructed adjacent to the Hamilton Children’s Garden on the park’s north side.

Garden officials have been working on the project for years and have raised nearly $4 million for its construction.

But several neighbors said they are opposed to the project due to concerns about the noise that the events at the pavilion and companion outdoor patio would generate. They said they already have issues with noise from weddings and special events that already occur at the park.

“They have proved incapable of controlling the noise or even having the will to do it,” said Tom McIver, who lives on Quail Gardens Court, directly across the street from the garden. “How are we supposed to believe they would do a better job controlling the noise if they expand?”

According to a city staff report, the proposed pavilion could host anywhere between 12 to 15 special events per month that would run between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. and would accommodate a maximum of 340 people during weekdays and 660 people on weekends.

The proposal includes several restrictions to limit the size and number of events, including limiting the number of events to one at a time and prohibiting simultaneous use of the pavilion and outdoor patio.

The proposal also addresses sound concerns. Events can only use two speakers and must stay below the city’s municipal code noise limit in residential zones of 50 decibels, and calls on the patio to be closed at 10 p.m.

Julian Duval, the longtime CEO of the Botanic Garden, said that garden has worked to be a good neighbor with the surrounding neighborhood, including working with a neighbor who is an acoustical engineer to measure the sound that was coming from the garden from its current lawn area, where many weddings are held.

“The most important thing was to establish what level of sound was tolerable and not obtrusive to any of our neighbors,” Duval said.

Garden operations manager Pat Hammer said the garden also has a “no tolerance” policy that gives disc jockeys and event hosts one warning to lower the sound to acceptable levels before they cut the power to the event.

Hammer said the garden has not had to enforce the policy because most comply after the warning is given.

“We used to get complaints about the noise, but since the policy was enforced, I don’t think we have received a complaint in at least two years,” Hammer said. “We have had very few times where noise has been a problem. Julian (Duval) lives on the property, so he hears it before anyone else.”

Neighbors have also seized hold of the report done by the acoustical engineer, who monitored 45 events between March and December of 2015. The report showed that nearly one-third of the events included noise that went over the city code’s decibel limit for most or all of the event, or were extremely loud for an hour.

The report urges the Garden to do more to curb the sound violations at the current wedding venue and provide absolute assurance that the Garden will enforce it’s zero-tolerance policy at the new venue, as well as prohibit concurrent events at the new venue and the current wedding venue.

“The result would be an inter-modulation of sounds that would drive everybody crazy, even if the level was not loud,” the report states. “Think of listening to two songs simultaneously.”

McIver said some neighbors are skeptical that the garden will follow through with its pledges to curb noise, while others are indifferent to the proposal.

“Some people are completely opposed, some don’t care and most are not prepared to get involved,” McIver said.

Duval said he understands the neighbors concerns and will continue to work to improve the level of noise coming from the garden in advance of the completion of the pavilion. He also said the location of the pavilion will make it less likely to generate complaints because it is not as close to residences as the current event venues.

“We feel that this is a better location and the likelihood of having noise bothering the neighbors is less than the lawn area where we have historically done wedding and receptions,” Duval said.

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