BELLINGHAM - Nearly a year after the opening of the Regal Cinema Stadium 16 movie theater, neighbors and the company are still trying to figure out how to deal with the noise that's coming from the back of the building.
Josh and Jolene Baijot, who live in a residential neighborhood on the west side of the movie theater, began hearing and feeling a deep bass noise that would shake the windows of their home during the initial movie screenings in December 2012.
The Baijots informed the Barkley Company, which owns the property, about the problem. Company officials then contacted Regal Cinemas. Regal has done some sound tests and took steps this spring to alleviate the noise problem, which appears to be coming specifically from the IMAX and RPX theaters in the building.
The Baijots said they noticed some improvement after the work was done, but by the end of September the noise was back, said Josh Baijot.
It's particularly disturbing to his family when a blockbuster action movie is released: When the second "Hunger Games" movie debuted late one night, Josh Baijot said he could hear the deep rumble during the action sequences until nearly 3 a.m.
"Nobody wants to come home and not be able to relax," Josh said, noting that the noises are upsetting the sleep patterns of his family, which includes three young children.
Other neighbors also have noticed the noise. Fran Davis likens it to a logging truck going by, while Penny Wise described it as a sound similar to a car driving by playing loud music with that deep, bass beat.
"A lot of neighborhood people are concerned about this," said Madelyn Pyeatt, who lives on the far side of the residential area, which has around 60 homes, and has heard the noise.
While expressing concern about the noise, the same neighbors enjoy what's been done to what was an empty lot a few years ago.
"I like living here and love the amenities that have come into this area," said Jolene Baijot. "But I didn't ask for this bass noise to come into our neighborhood."
The issue also highlights a couple of challenges: city planning and noise enforcement. The recent trend of creating more mixed-use and urban village districts means more overlap between residential and commercial property.
Bellingham Planning Director Jeff Thomas said he became aware of the theater noise issue earlier this month and his department is gathering information to determine what steps may be needed. He remembers that during the initial design review process, more of a focus was made to address the visual impact of the project, which led to the design of the green buffer that separates the theater and the residential neighborhood, including the planting of trees and other vegetation.
Thomas said the goal at this point is to solve the problem.
"I think everyone is working toward that common goal," he said.
Noise enforcement in mixed-use areas also still needs to be worked out. The Baijots said they've made at least a half-dozen calls to the Bellingham Police Department in the past year before turning to the city planning department.
If a noise complaint is received and police determine it's an issue, it's difficult whom to cite in this situation, said Bellingham Police Sgt. Jason Monson. It's more straightforward when it's a loud house party; police would cite the owner or tenant. With a business where the owner isn't present and the noise is violating an ordinance, the police officer probably would document the noise, write up a report and forward it to the prosecutor's office. Monson said he found only one complaint about the movie theater that was documented and in police files.
The lack of enforcement to this point is frustrating, Josh Baijot said, because it feels like little progress is being made in a situation where he feels a business is chronically breaking the law.
"The question I have is why is this continuing to happen?" Baijot said.
The noise problem appears to be a perplexing one for Regal Cinema. Company officials did not return phone messages or emails requesting comment, but they have been in contact with the Baijots, as well as city councilman Gene Knutson.
Knutson was told that $500,000 has already been spent trying to solve the problem. A city building permit issued earlier this year indicated more than $300,000 was spent on work on the theater's roof to try to dampen the noise.
For the property owner, this noise issue is also hard to address. Stowe Talbot of the Barkley Company said they have no control over how a tenant like a movie theater handles the volume of the movies being played. The Barkley Company did put in the green buffer, but the company is limited to putting in vegetation.
"I certainly understand and sympathize with (the neighbors) about this situation," Talbot said.