Neighbor: Xscape Theatres Too Loud

Photo courtesy Xscape Theatres

HOWELL – It was a matter of semantics at a recent zoning board meeting, as Castle Court resident Marc Parisi made his case for the second time about noise coming from the nearby Xscape Theatres on Route 9, this time with a noise expert in tow.

Parisi lives less than 200 feet from the newly built theatre, and has heard loud rumbling noises inside his home for the past 15 months. But when the county came to his home to measure the sound, they did not find a violation. Land Use Officer Matthew Howard ruled that there was no violation of Howell’s noise code on February 28. Parisi promptly appealed that decision and hired a noise expert.

Eric Zwerling has trained every noise enforcement officer in the state of New Jersey and has written noise ordinances for jurisdictions across the country. He enlightened zoning board members about an additional scale used to measure noise frequencies – the C scale.

“C scale is much more sensitive to low frequency sound,” said Zwerling, and the C scale is what’s used for measurement of amplified music.

“The A scale is used because it essentially mimics human sensitivity to noises of moderate intensity and moderate frequency. It is specifically designed to discriminate against low frequency because humans don’t hear low intensity, low frequency very well.”

He added that when you funnel low frequency through something the size of a car with a couple thousand watts behind it– you’ll hear it very well.

Zwerling went out to Parisi’s property to measure the sound on June 22 into 23 from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., taking measurements in the bedroom when the theatre was both on and off. He said there was an 11 decibel difference when the theatre was on from when it was off.

Howell’s noise code only measures on the A scale, setting max limits for a commercial or business property for daytime hours and from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

After some back and forth between the two scales, the meeting shifted to a single statement made by theatre officials nearly two years ago.

At a May zoning board meeting, Parisi testified that Norman Dotti, the acoustical engineer for the project, assured him back in 2015, prior to the theatre being built, that it was his overall opinion that the expected sound, if any, from the theater would be less than the traffic driving by on Route 9.

Parisi also said that Scott Bagwell, the Vice President of Xscape Theatres, said that no noise would be heard on his property.

Zoning board officials were persuaded by the board attorney to hone in on Dotti’s statement during their vote, and to vote on whether or not his statement has been complied with.

Officials voted 4-3 on the case, siding with Howard’s decision that there was no violation of the township’s noise code.

“A noise is a noise, I don’t care how you measure it,” said board member John Armata. “Forget about the scale. The noise represents to this client a disturbance and as I voted on the other cases when it comes to our citizens being disturbed by something that is really manufactured on a daily basis, I think that’s not good for our citizens.”

Board member Richard Mertens echoed Armata’s concern, revealing that he went out to Parisi’s home and heard the noise himself. He said that he didn’t fault the zoning officer for making the call since he was only relying on a scale, but on a common sense scale, he heard noise.

After the zoning board’s decision, Parisi’s story generated significant media attention, even drawing reporters from CBS News out to his home to film a feature story.

Parisi filed a complaint with Howell Township Municipal Court on August 29 citing a violation of the noise code, the morning after the zoning board’s decision.

He has found an ally in Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro, who called him in response to an email he sent citing the issue is not about vibrations – it’s about noise. Nicastro has assured him that people in town are now trying to put their heads together and get the issue resolved, and has given Parisi his word that he will look into revising the town’s noise ordinance.

Parisi suggested that Howell adopt the state’s model noise control ordinance, which Zwerling said some townships already use, since it calls out the C scale and every aspect of noise would be covered in town.

Theatre officials did come to Parisi’s home in recent months to listen to the sound and told him they would be ordering some equipment to rectify the issue, but so far, that has not happened.

“Our main concern is that if the theater is going to agree to turn down the volume, that it’s done in a way that it’s a permanent solution,” said Parisi.