Complaints about late night noise have prompted city officials to consider removing recently installed musical equipment from an Etobicoke park named after late great blues guitarist Jeff Healey.
“We will begin with maybe removing the noisiest equipment, hear back from (residents), and if it’s still a problem, then ultimately remove it all,” Etobicoke-Lakeshore Councillor Justin Di Ciano said at a community meeting to discuss the noise concerns on Thursday, May 5 night. “Then we’ll have to figure out, with community consultation, what other things we can do in the park to showcase what Jeff Healey was all about.”
Despite widespread media coverage drawing much attention to the issue over the last few weeks, Di Ciano’s meeting at St. Mark Catholic School drew a mere 15 people – only a handful of them local residents, the rest city staff and Toronto police representatives.
Among the few residents in attendance, however, opposition to the musical equipment was clear.
Natasha Urosavic threatened legal action should the city not act to remedy the noise emanating from the xylophone-like structures and drums at the park behind her house late at night. She came to the meeting armed with a petition signed by a dozen neighbours who she said likewise object to the instruments.
“This is not nice music, this is noise. This is noise that nobody can stand, and it’s late at night,” Urosavic said, noting that she’s been awoken many times at 2 or 3 a.m. by teens partying in the park and causing a “terrible” commotion on the equipment using sticks and rocks. “This is not about Jeff Healey – we’ve heard about him and we admire him. It’s about my family and the health of my family.
“I understand Jeff Healey grew up in the area, and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that other people need to suffer because of it,” she added. “And I don’t think, the great person that Jeff Healey was, that he should be remembered by other people for something so negative as this.”
As members of the Duke Ellington Society – an organization Healey himself supported, which honours its jazz legend namesake through concerts and scholarships for young jazz musicians – Alan and Judy Shiels agreed.
“I am so glad we came this evening, because I had no idea that this was happening,” Judy said upon hearing of Urosavic’s late-night plight. “I am appalled. And I think Jeff would be appalled, too.”
The renaming and rejuvenation of the former Woodford Park in Healey’s honour was first driven by the fundraising efforts of a group of the Grammy Award-nominated and Juno Award-winning musician’s family, friends and supporters shortly after his death at age 41 in 2008, following a three-year battle with sarcoma cancer.
The first phase of Jeff Healey Park – which included new play structures, slides, a climber, swing set, spring toys and benches – opened in 2010 thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Friends of Jeff Healey Park group.
The contentious musical playground equipment, which was also funded by the private group, wasn’t unveiled until October 2015 as part of the park’s second phase.
It was mere days after the instruments’ installation in The Queensway and Royal York Road area park, Urosavic said, that her family was first awoken by late-night park patrons giving the xylophones a try. She began filing letters and phone calls of complaint with both city officials and police soon thereafter.
In response, Doug Bennet, a business development officer with Parks, Forestry and Recreation, said his department removed the mallets from what they figured were the loudest of the offending instruments in the park.
But the removal of the mallets, Urosavic said, had little impact, because many of the partying teens causing all the noise simply replaced them with branches and rocks procured from a nearby wooded area instead.
City Parks staff also called the U.S. manufacturer of the musical equipment to request they ship a softer mallet in an attempt to muffle some of the noise, and to inquire if they had had any reports of noise complaints at any of their other installations around the world.
“They could only think of one other situation like this, and in that case, they simply locked up the mallets at night,” Bennet said in an interview with The Guardian. “But that won’t work here, because as we heard tonight, people weren’t using the mallets, they were using branches, rocks and stones – and you can’t lock those up.”
The city also considered relocating the instruments to another part of the park or constructing some kind of sound barrier around them, but none of those options were deemed effective enough to muffle the resonant sounds of the equipment.
Moving forward, Di Ciano said, it appears the city’s only recourse is to consider removing at least some of the instruments for possible relocation elsewhere in the city – but first he needs to consult with the Friends of Jeff Healey Park group that provided the funds for the equipment.
“I’d like to share your concerns with the organization that brought the renewal to Jeff Healey Park, because they certainly put a lot of work into this thing and I want them to understand some of the agony you guys are going through,” Di Ciano told residents at the meeting.
“I’m sure many of them will still want to pay tribute to Jeff Healey, so if it’s not going to be the musical instruments, maybe there can be paintings or murals or something else (in the park) that can continue to showcase his legacy.”