Multiple Perspectives in Detroit Zoo Discussions (video)

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(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 13, 2015)

There are several balancing acts in play as the Detroit Zoo figures out how to provide the right blend of entertainment and fundraising with their mission of providing a good home to animals, and how to be good neighbors with the Royal Oak and Huntington Woods residents who live around the property.

Zoo officials met with a group of about 50 residents Thursday to give an update on construction projects and events, and to talk about issues like noise and aesthetics.

The main complaint from residents has been noise.  Not the noise from the animals, but the noise from people at special events and the noise from the Dinosauria exhibit that comes around every few years.  Dinosauria is returning this summer, making residents particularly nervous.

waterworkHuntington Woods resident Robert Conway called the constant roaring of dinosaurs “psychologically torturous.”  The exhibit features dinosaurs that move and roar, including some that spit and snort. “I have lived in Huntington Woods since 1999 and I have been a member of the zoo until the first summer of Dinosauria. I have not been back since,” Conway said.

Detroit Zoo Chief Operating Officer Gerry VanAcker spoke about the zoo’s efforts to reduce the impact of noise on neighbors. Since 2011 they have added volume controls to speakers in the Dinosauria exhibit, added a hedge to the north parameter of the exhibit to act as a buffer, and removed the bass from several of the dinosaur tracks.  In the coming exhibit this summer they will be putting motion sensors on some dinos so that it is not a looping track all day long, but only roaring when people are near.  They are also in the process of pricing out industrial grade sound baffling.dinos02sidelogo3

Though Dinosauria seems to be the biggest noise offender, residents are concerned about the growing number of special events and the sound that comes along with them.  Several events in the summer go until 10:30 at night, and include concerts.  Conversely, the zoo hosts several charity walks and runs that can begin as early as 6am, and have people with speakerphones making announcements.

Jennifer Howard and her family live on Lafayette in Royal Oak.  “I’m on the other side of Woodward and my little one here has woken up from concerts.  That noise is traveling across seed024_jeannie_davis_from_loriWoodward.  We can hear all the dogs barking all day long at adoption events, and all the announcements to the runners,” she said.

Several residents noted the increased number of special events as being part of the problem.  Aaron Retish counted the number of scheduled hours of amplified noise as over 1,000 hours in the course of the summer, not including events that come in as rentals.

“People have suggested I should not have moved into my house because a zoo makes noise,” said Huntington Woods resident Rosemary Wallock.  “I started complaining in October 2006. The occasion was Octoberfest, which was a very noisy event… I’ve been here 39 years.  And for a long time it was animals, people, and children. That was it.  Even the loud squacky peacocks I can handle…  It’s the number of activities and events [that is the concern]”

When asked about the increased events, VanAcker said they account for about 15% of the Zoo’s traffic, and that he did not foresee scaling back.  Not only do the events bring much-needed funds to the zoo, they bring people in.  “[For] cultural institutions, society now demands that we’re not just looking at art or animals, they are places where people want to gather,” VanAcker said.  “That’s probably not going to change because that’s what society requires…When you’re so Ferndale 115_FFLbound to technology all day, people want to go places where they can just be around other people.”

To mitigate special event noise, the Detroit Zoo has moved the stages and turned them so noise is directed towards the expressway instead of the neighborhoods.  They have moved the starting point of walks and runs to the back of the zoo.  And they have added a provision to contracts that requires those who rent the zoo for events comply with Royal Oak noise ordinances.  The zoo operates under Royal Oak noise ordinances because Huntington Woods does not currently have an ordinance that applies to the zoo. The zoo has property that is in both cities.

Another issue for residents is the division between the Detroit Zoo and the communities, literally.  Residents along Huntington in particular came to speak about a plastic barrier put up along the fence so that neighbors and passersby could no longer see into the zoo.  People who Reid_Sally_115spoke were proud to say which animals were their neighbors.  Those who lived near the camels, the tigers and the lions said they preferred that the plastic be removed.

VanAcker said the screens were to block unsightly zoo operations, such as truck loading and unloading and manure shoveling, but that he’d consider doing a survey of residents to see if the barrier was preferred or not.  Of those in the room, over a dozen raised their hands when a resident asked if the plastic should come down.

Parking was another complaint, with residents in the neighborhoods upset that people parked on their streets to visit the zoo.

Another concern was a train that has been discussed for taking families around the zoo.  This project is in the early stages of planning, but VanAcker said that it would be an electric train with steele lindbloom adrubber wheels, much quieter than the trains people envision with the metal wheels, steam or coal engines, and clanky metal rails.

The discussions kept an overall productive tone, with residents and zoo officials in agreement of wanting to work together.  Email addresses were collected and the zoo plans on having follow up meetings through the summer to get feedback on how their solutions are working out.


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