‘Sleepless Nights’

Residents Voice Concerns Over Aspen Heights Noise

Posted: August 31, 2013

Dale Diaz, who lives at 1200 Portland Drive, looks through a line of trees toward Aspen Heights, the new 600-unit housing development in Rockingham County where thousands of people gathered to party last weekend. At the peak of the parties, Diaz called the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office to complain about the noise. She soon found that deputies’ hands are tied when it comes to noise: Rockingham County doesn’t have a noise ordinance. (Photos by Michael Reilly)
Joggers run along Port Republic Road near the new Aspen Heights development in Rockingham County. Diaz wants to see a traffic light installed at the complex’s entrance at the intersection of Port Republic Road and Rosedale Drive.
Dale Diaz, who has lived on the corner of Portland Drive and Port Republic Road since 1988, looks through trees toward Aspen Heights. For the last two weekends, Diaz says she has been kept awake by people partying into the early morning hours at the complex.
HARRISONBURG — For the last two weekends, Dale Diaz tossed and turned attempting to sleep as thousands of people — assumed to be mostly students — partied into the early morning hours at Rockingham County’s first off-campus student-housing complex, Aspen Heights.

According to police, 2,000 to 3,000 people attended parties at the new 600-bed complex off Port Republic Road, just outside Harrisonburg’s city limits, the weekend before classes began at James Madison University.

Monday was the first day of the fall semester at JMU.

Diaz has lived on the corner of Portland Drive and Port Republic Road, within eyesight of the new development, since 1988. She said this school year is the first time the parties have affected her neighborhood.

“There was a stream of cars ... maybe 10 in a minute’s time going into there,” she said, adding the noise was loud until at least 2 a.m. “I had three sleepless nights.”

The Noise

At the peak of the parties, Diaz called the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office to complain about the noise. She soon found that deputies’ hands are tied when it comes to noise: Rockingham County doesn’t have a noise ordinance.

Diaz is circulating a petition in her neighborhood asking for the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors to explore adopting a noise ordinance.

Kristen McCay, 34, who also lives on Portland Drive, said she’s supporting Diaz’s efforts.

“There was a lot of hooting and hollering from the kids all night,” McCay said. “We’re concerned it’s going to escalate. We want there to be some control over the noise and drinking.”

Supervisor Bill Kyger agrees it’s time to explore a noise ordinance in the county.

“I fully expect the board will do that with a petition or not,” said Kyger, adding that any such ordinance must focus on residential neighborhoods and not in areas where agriculture or industry are prevalent. “We need to be very careful though.”

Calls to Austin, Texas-based Aspen Heights, which owns the Rockingham County complex and several others like it throughout the country, were not returned.

Extending JMU’s Reach

Diaz also wants JMU’s police department to extend its jurisdiction to Aspen Heights. Currently, campus police can go off campus to assist and patrol in student-housing complexes within Harrisonburg.

She said having more police available to patrol the area during the big parties could help.

“There has to be underage drinking, which causes all kinds of problems,” Diaz said.

Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said the first step in JMU assisting with Aspen Heights enforcement is for the university to decide if it wants to help.

University spokesman Don Egle said it’s too early to determine whether JMU would be interested in obtaining jurisdiction. However, he said, it’s important that issues regarding Aspen Heights are resolved.

“James Madison University is interested in working with our community partners to discover new ways to help Aspen Heights integrate with the community, our neighbors and our students,” Egle said. “We look forward to some productive discussions in the coming weeks to address some of the recent concerns.”

Hutcheson said the property’s management must take a role.
 
“There’s definitely a lot of unanswered questions,” he said. “A lot of it comes down to how the property management wants to handle things. We’ll have to react to that.”

Hutcheson said the property managers will have to decide what will be tolerated and what will not.
“Do they welcome block parties ... do they welcome DJs?” he questioned.

The Traffic

Diaz also wants to see a traffic light installed at the complex’s entrance at the intersection of Port Republic Road and Rosedale Drive.

As part of an agreement with Rockingham County, Aspen Heights agreed to put up a stoplight at the entrance to the off-campus student-housing complex if a traffic analysis found one would be needed.

The Virginia Department of Transportation, which must sign off on installing the light, concluded that one wasn’t needed at the development’s entrance.

During the process of securing the proper zoning from the Board of Supervisors, Aspen Heights had Harrisonburg-based Blackwell Engineering perform a traffic study at the proposed entrance. Blackwell found the project would generate 220 trips a day, compared to 9,624 daily trips if it had been developed commercially.

Jeremy Mason, VDOT’s assistant Harrisonburg residency administrator, said his office has received one complaint.

“We always take a look at the intersection when there is a traffic issue,” said Mason, noting that traffic issues came during JMU’s first week of classes. “Once the students get moved in and they get into the normal function it should level out. But if it doesn’t, we’d be open to taking a second look.”

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or pdelea@dnronline.com


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