Queens neighborhoods top the list in the first analysis of homes on the market with excessive airplane noise

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June 13, 2019

> If you’re looking to rent or buy in Queens, you have a one in 10 chance of landing somewhere you’ll hear a near-constant roar of low-flying planes, according to a first of its kind analysis by real estate search platform Localize.city

> Brookville, Howard Beach and Flushing had the highest percentage of homes for rent and for sale (96 percent, 88 percent and 66 percent, respectively) that suffer from excessive airplane noise

> While Queens is home to 16 of the top 20 noisiest neighborhoods, Mott Haven in the Bronx made the list, along with Manhattan’s East Harlem, which had the third highest number of listings exposed to airplane noise in the city

It can be hard to escape the roar of low-flying airplanes in many neighborhoods throughout New York City.

“We can’t sleep. Our kids can’t study,” said Janet McEneaney, Bayside resident and activist with a group called Queens Quiet Skies. “If you’ve ever had a really bad earache or toothache, that’s what it feels like. While it’s happening, you can’t think about anything else and you just want it to go away.”

Such noise has indeed been linked to cardiovascular disease, anxiety, sleep disorders and impaired learning ability, studies have found.

Short of camping out for days at each apartment, buyers and renters couldn’t know if their next home would have airplane noise disturbing their peace and quiet — until now. Localize.city is the only real estate search platform that alerts home hunters about the pros and cons of properties on the market, including if they will be exposed to excessive noise from airplanes.

McEneaney often gets letters from residents telling her about having to move because of the unbearable noise, she said. There was the man who had to break his lease on an apartment in Woodside, Queens, because of planes at LaGuardia Airport. Another resident bought a home on the promise his broker made: that flight paths around John F. Kennedy Airport would be changing in three months. He sold his house eight months later because of the noise.

“I moved to Bayside because I wanted some quiet,” McEneaney said of her decision to move to the suburban-like Queens neighborhood 25 years ago. “When we don’t have plane noise, you can hear a pin drop.”

The noise took a turn for the worse in 2012, when the Federal Aviation Authority began using new satellite technology to guide planes along flight paths. Now, there are many days when her noise monitor measures 80 decibels, which exceeds the FAA’s recommended limit for residential living.

The three noise impact zones from a 2017 Port Authority of New York & New Jersey study.

Where airplane noise causes the biggest headaches

Localize.city analyzed all sales and rental listings available on the platform as of June 6, 2019 along with 2017 noise impact data from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and 2014-2017 complaint data obtained from the Port Authority through a FOIL request.

“Queens, home to two major airports, unsurprisingly has the largest share of homes on the market plagued by airplane noise,” said Localize.city data scientist Kessem Meir. “But residents in other neighborhoods that are not adjacent to the airports are suffering as well. For some people, airplane noise might be more than a mere nuisance. It could harm their quality of life or health. Others might be able to tune it out. What’s important though is that you can now know the tradeoffs ahead of time.”

Overall, roughly one in 10 homes on the market in Queens falls within a potentially loud flight path, Localize.city found. The Bronx ranked No. 2, with more than 3 percent of its homes on the market exposed to bothersome airplane noise.

In terms of sheer numbers of homes on the market affected by the roar of airplanes, Flushing had the most, followed by Howard Beach and East Harlem.

Anything but the sounds of silence

The analysis looked at homes on the market in flight paths that fell within three noise-level zones as defined by the Port Authority:

> 55-decibel zones: Airplanes in these zones tend to be as loud as a TV or radio at low volume. While the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t consider areas in this zone as officially at risk for harmful airplane noise exposure, more stringent international noise standards suggest that airplane noise could still be an issue.  

> 65-decibel zones: Airplane noise here is roughly equivalent to a loud air conditioner.  This level exceeds FAA guidelines, so areas that fall within this zone may not be suitable for residential living due to aircraft noise levels, suggests a 2017 Port Authority study for La Guardia and John F. Kennedy airports

> 70 decibel zones:  The noise from airplanes tends to be as loud as a shower or dishwasher.  As with 65-decibel zones, these areas may not be suitable for residential living.

Changes on the horizon

Older, louder airplane engines continue to be phased out across the U.S., which could be a relief to many noise-suffering New York City neighborhoods. But at the same time, the number of daytime flights at JFK and LGA is expected to rise in the coming years, so the frequency of planes — and potential noise — could increase.  

This past April, the Port Authority began a $355 million reconstruction of JFK to widen two runways. While these runways will close for at least eight months during the project, flights are being re-routed to JFK’s other three runways, and the resulting flight pattern changes will reportedly expose thousands more homes to airplane noise during the construction. The Port Authority is also rebuilding LGA over the next several years. It remains to be seen what the noise impacts of that $8 billion project will be.

McEneaney’s group, Queens Quiet Skies, has been pushing the Port Authority to redraw its map of areas affected by airplane noise, claiming that the agency’s current boundaries don’t reflect the reality on the ground of how people are affected by airplane noise. McEneaney’s Bayside home, for example, is not in the Port Authority’s current boundaries of neighborhoods most affected by the noise, but the neighborhood is clearly plagued by noise, according to complaint data. New maps are expected to be completed by 2022.

In the meantime, the Port Authority is working is working on a program to mitigate noise within the 65-decibel zone. It expects to issue a report for public comment at the end of this year and final approval from FAA in second half of 2020, according to Port Authority officials.

There has been some discussion about the FAA offering grants to residents who live in these zones to pay for soundproofing of their homes.

McEneaney, who sits on a Port Authority technical advisory panel for the issue, said that neighbors in her group prefer changing flight paths over insulation on their homes.

“My members want to open their windows in the summer and have barbecues,” she said.

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