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Church's anti-loitering 'mosquito' makes Pleasant Street unpleasant 

click to enlarge Michele Tucker, a neighbor of Our Lady of Victory Church, protects her ears from the incessant squealing the church is emitting to deter loiterers. Neighborhood residents complain that the noise is infringing on their quality of life.

PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA

Michele Tucker, a neighbor of Our Lady of Victory Church, protects her ears from the incessant squealing the church is emitting to deter loiterers. Neighborhood residents complain that the noise is infringing on their quality of life.

The sounds of the city abound on Pleasant Street in downtown Rochester — car horns, sirens, the chatter of passersby.

But rising above the din of it all on a recent morning was an incessant high-pitched squeal emanating from, of all places, the historic Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church.

Neighborhood residents and nearby business owners said the squeal, which was interspersed with beeps reminiscent of Morse code, has been sounding on and off for the better part of a year and has become the bane of their existence.

To say the squeal is loud is putting it mildly. It soars like a television test pattern pitch amplified by a megaphone. In biblical terms, one could be forgiven for thinking the locusts of the Book of Revelation are descending.

“It will sometimes go on all day long,” said Michele Tucker, who works from her home on the second floor of the Warner Lofts apartments at the corner of Pleasant and St. Paul streets. “I can’t even open my windows, and even with the windows closed, you still hear it.”


The sound appears to be on no specific schedule. Neighbors described it as starting sometimes as early as 8 a.m. and continuing all day. Other times, they said, it begins in the evening and lasts a few hours. Some recalled hearing the noise after Sunday morning Masses.

For people who live and work nearby, the sound has become a quality-of-life issue, which is ironic, because the reason the church is blasting the sound is to address a quality-of-life issue of its own — namely the people who loiter, panhandle, get high, and, sometimes, relieve themselves on church property.

Residents had mixed reactions to whether the strategy was working. Some said the number of people lingering around the church falls when the squeal plays. Others said the only difference they noticed was the ringing in their ears.

Indeed, as the squeal pealed, a man spent several minutes alternatingly sitting on the church steps and scouring the property for something that could be of use to him. Asked if he could hear the sound, he said, “Yes.” Asked if it bothered him, he shook his head no, and carried on.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Ronald Antinarelli, declined to field questions about the squealing, and messages left with the Diocese of Rochester were not returned.

Small metal-grate boxes affixed to either side of the church, where the sound was most perceptible, resembled an anti-loitering device known as “The Mosquito” that has been the subject of human rights and discrimination disputes around the world.

The device has two frequency settings, one that can be generally heard only by young people and another that can be heard by most everyone else.

Opponents have argued that The Mosquito infringes on the rights of young people to assemble peaceably, while supporters contend that banning the alarm would infringe the rights of shopkeepers to keep their businesses free of riffraff.

The squealing emanating from Our Lady of Victory could be heard by seemingly everyone up and down Pleasant Street that morning, and appeared to violate the city’s noise ordinance, which prohibits consistent noise that is audible at a distance of 50 feet beyond a property line.

click to enlarge Founded in 1868, Our Lady of Victory Church is one of Rochester's oldest Catholic churches and is on the National Register of Historic Places. - PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
  • PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
  • Founded in 1868, Our Lady of Victory Church is one of Rochester's oldest Catholic churches and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Responding to questions, city spokesperson Justin Roj forwarded correspondence from the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development that acknowledged the device being used by the church is The Mosquito and that neighbors have complained.

“The fact that the device can be heard by people over 20 years of age indicates an error in the settings,” the correspondence read. “[An officer] will be following up with church staff and advise them that it is an annoyance to the neighbors.

“It is not working as designed and even if it were it may not be an appropriate tool due to the fact that many of the loiterers are not youth.”

Neighbors of Our Lady of Victory said they and their landlords have lodged complaints with the church and gotten nowhere.

“My boyfriend has gone over a couple times. He’s seen people working outside and was like, ‘Hey, what’s up with the tone?’” said Hillary Bureau, 28, who lives across the street. “They yelled at him, told him to get off their property, it keeps the bums away, all that kind of stuff.

“Clearly not,” she went on. “There’s always people sitting on the steps and always hanging out there. . . . [The sound is] just a nuisance to people who live here.”

Inside the church that morning, a handful of police officers happened to be meeting with Antinarelli and other church officials to discuss what the officers described as a host of “community issues” surrounding the church, including the squealing.

“I guess the question is the same people who are calling, what are they doing to help the church to keep people that don’t need to be on the sidewalk or doing drugs and other illicit activities, preventing parishioners from going from the church, what are they doing to help?” Lt. Jeff Lafave asked. “I guess that’s the question. That’s why we’re here.”

BIG NOISE FROM THE 'LITTLE FRENCH CHURCH'

The red-brick Our Lady of Victory is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Rochester, having been founded in 1868 by French-speaking Catholics. Known for decades as “the little French Church,” its services were originally performed in French, and later Flemish to cater to a burgeoning Flemish and Dutch population, before English became its official language in 1940.

click to enlarge A Madonna and Child statue in the yard at Our Lady of Victory Church on Pleasant Street. - PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
  • PHOTO BY DAVID ANDREATTA
  • A Madonna and Child statue in the yard at Our Lady of Victory Church on Pleasant Street.
Its history has been one of dodging successive life-threatening crises. Fire gutted the building in 1912, and the parish got by with a patchwork of repairs over the decades before being completely restored in 2018.

In 1955, a live artillery shell was discovered in a little-used storeroom. In 1968, the church fended off the threat of urban renewal-inspired demolition. Seven years later, it absorbed St. Joseph parish after that church on Franklin Street was destroyed by fire.

Today, the church is officially called Our Lady of Victory-St. Joseph and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

For nearly 80 years, the church has co-existed next door to World Wide News, a once thriving newsstand on the corner of St. Paul and Pleasant that is now a convenience store and lottery parlor whose parking lot is frequented by panhandlers.

Workers at World Wide News acknowledged hearing the squealing coming from the church but declined to comment.

Another method of curbing loitering that property owners have used is playing classical music and opera over loudspeakers, the thinking being that those genres of music are most objectionable to the sensibilities of youth.

The owners of the Sibley building had success with that trick a few years ago. A 7-11 on Monroe Avenue appears to do the same on occasion.

For most people on Pleasant Street, Mozart would be a welcome alternative to The Mosquito.

“It’s not the way to treat your neighbors,” Tucker said of the squeal. “It’s not the way I think Jesus or God would treat their neighbors. Well, maybe Old Testament.”

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.
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