Hilton noise angers neighbors who say homes are now unlivable

By Madison Fantozzi
mfantozzi@MiamiHerald.com

This story published in Miami Herald’s North East Neighbors on Sunday October 27, 2013.

The La Gorce Palace condominiums on Collins Avenue have their own alarm clock that wakes the building at 7 a.m. — a noise residents compare to an accelerating jet engine in their living rooms that is constant until 5 p.m. six days a week.

Residents filed noise complaints as early as Sept. 7 to Miami Beach’s Code Compliance Division regarding air conditioning units on the rooftop of the building under construction directly south of the condos at 6261 Collins Ave., a future Hilton Cabana hotel under development by the Witkoff Group.

According to the city, noise levels during the day do not constitute a violation, but the curfew was set and the city has asked the company to install sleeves around the AC units to muffle the sound — an action that is too little, too late to the residents of La Gorce Palace, 6301 Collins Ave.

An attorney for the developer noted that the air conditioners had been approved by the city before they were installed. But he added that his client was willing to work with the neighbors to address their concerns.

Miami Beach’s noise law does not specify precise noise levels allowed; instead it says noise must not be “unreasonably loud, excessive, unnecessary or unusual.” Even before this case,, the city had begun studying the law with an eye toward making it more objective.

Earlier this month, the City Commission discussed the La Gorce Palace case, and commissioners decided to wait and see if the sleeves solve the problem.  If not, commissioners told the city attorney’s office to take whatever other steps are necessary.

Building resident Dr. Zoe Ann Lewis, 57, is an advocate of wearing earplugs in the building, claiming that the noise is not only a nuisance, but also a health hazard.

“The issue is that there is no city ordinance already protecting us from situations like this,” Lewis said. “When you move into an apartment, you assume the city has deemed it safe to live. In this case, people have to protect themselves.”

Lewis used an app on her phone to measure the decibels from her apartment on the 31st floor — a reading that fluctuated at about 80 dB at her bedroom window that directly overlooks the chillers. She said measurements as high as 91 dB have been recorded in other apartments.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, normal indoor noise levels in residential areas are around 45 dB. The city has not taken any official decibel readings, according to Code Compliance Division head Hernan Cardeno.

“This is industrial noise pollution. It’s disgusting,” Lewis said. “There is no terminology to describe allowing a public health hazard to continue.”

Lewis said the air conditioning units were once left on past a 9 p.m. curfew set by the city. “I just don’t understand the logic. When you have a loud party, the police come and shut it down. The chillers were left on overnight and no one was able to sleep, but no one came to shut them down.”

Lewis said she reached out to the EPA, but noise regulations are set and enforced at state and county levels.

The city issued two violations that the noise was unreasonable after 11 p.m., but the building owner is appealing this decision.

“The violations cite loud music. They are erroneous unless this is some new form of music made by air conditioners,” said Neisen Kasdin, the building owner’s attorney and a former Miami Beach mayor.

However, Kasdin said the owner wants to be a good neighbor.

“There was no reason to believe that something permitted by the city and running by code would be disruptive,” Kasdin said. “The building owner wants to accommodate its neighbors and is looking for a way to do it.”

A law firm representing the residents, Alayon & Associates, has gathered 75 affidavits from residents unhappy with the noise.

“These residents aren’t simply signing a petition, they are spending 30 to 45 minutes with us to voice how perturbed they are by what is going on,” Snyder said. “People have said it sounds like a helicopter hovering over them or a hairdryer in their ears at all times.”

“Life is hell inside this apartment,” said Paulo Heil, 46, who lives on the 17th floor.

The air-conditioning units will be on 24/7 when the Hilton Cabana hotel opens in January.

Elizabeth Serrano, 48, who lives on the 18th floor, said she feared the noise since construction began a year ago.

“My day starts cursing these people,” she said. “There’s a constant buzzing in my ear that follows me all the way to the beach.”

Residents are not only concerned about aggravating noise, but also the consequence on their property values.

“I feel like a prisoner in my own home,” Serrano said. “Even if I decided to leave, I couldn’t. Nobody will want this place now.”

Flyers line the elevators and hallways of La Gorce Palace: “The city says the noise is ok, healthy and normal…. Elections are Nov. 5. … Do they deserve your vote?”

“It’s hard to get the city to notice people with beachfront properties,” said resident Papageorgiou Georgios, 35. “But the 300-odd families living here pay upwards of $5,000 in taxes each year — that’s not enough for the city to stop the noise?”

Miami Herald staff writer Christina Veiga contributed to this report.

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