In an unusual move, Bradenton Beach officials referred a non-related land development code matter to the planning and zoning board Dec. 11.
City planner Alan Garrett acknowledged that the P&Z would not normally review noise ordinance revisions, but he said the city is taking extra steps to ensure the proposed updates will be satisfactory to as many as possible.
“We are hoping that today we get into discussion on some of the issues,” said Garrett. “More importantly, this is an opportunity to hear from the residents for the first time in what we hope will be at least two public hearings.”
Garrett said the noise ordinance being presented for review is modeled after one adopted for Key West, because that ordinance has withstood legal challenges. He said it is a “performance-based” ordinance that will rely on decibel-level readings to determine violations.
What the decibel levels will be is the question to try and answer, he said.
“It’s very critical to have that understanding because it’s decibel-based,” he said. “So we need to make sure what we have in the ordinance is appropriate.”
Based on the Key West ordinance, Garrett and building official Steve Gilbert set decibel levels at 95 for commercial zones and 70 for residential zones between the hours of 7 a.m.-7 p.m. The levels would drop by five from 7-10 p.m., another five from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. and an additional five levels in commercial zones only from 2-7 a.m.
The ordinance would allow either the police department or code enforcement to review and enforce violations. Code enforcement officer Gail Garneau was tasked to take some sample readings.
She measured three separate areas, including halfway down Bridge Street where she measured 50 decibels. She next went to the Gulf of Mexico side of Gulf Drive at Bridge Street and measured about 70 decibels.
She next went to Ninth Street North and measured around 50 decibels.
Garneau was asked how long she took the readings by P&Z member John Burns and she said about a minute.
Burns noted that the decibel reading must be for 5 minutes and exceed the maximum for 30 consecutive seconds to amount to a violation.
Garrett said the experiment was just to provide an example, but residents opposed her findings during public comment. Virtually all the comments from the public were regarding noise problems at night, when ambient noise such as traffic dies down and the music and nightlife of Bradenton Beach wafts through the air.
Several residents spoke up and complained that they cannot open their windows at night without their homes being flooded by music from bands playing at various locations.
Barbara Hug said the bass from live music vibrates her home and that her “quality of life has changed. I can’t open my windows. It’s just terrible.”
Ernie Casali, administrator of Moose Lodge No. 2188, 110 Gulf Drive, said he has sat in his office at night and asked his employees to have the music in the lodge turned down only to be told that it was coming from Bridge Street.
“Our quaint little town is turning into a three-ring circus, especially Bridge Street, said Casali. “Past city commissions have let everyone do what they want to do.”
Tjet Martin, co-owner of the Linger Longer Resort, said the problems started two years ago when a prior commission lifted the ban on amplified music performed outdoors.
“Now I can’t even sit on my deck at night and listen to the waves,” she said. “All I hear is boom, boom, boom, boom. If I want to hear music that loud, I’ll put on my headphones and blast it. What I don’t want to hear is music blasting two or three blocks away.”
P&Z chair Dan DeBaun said it would make sense for the city to do some additional testing at the times when the most complaints are registered.
Gilbert said the city basically has two options. He said the city could continue to pursue the decibel-level option or return to the outdoor amplified music ban. His suggestion drew some applause from the packed gallery.
P&Z member and former city commissioner Ric Gatehouse, who took office shortly after the city lifted the outdoor amplified-music ban, said he warned the commission, it “was opening a can of worms,” by lifting the ban.
However, he said his only duty at this point is to make sure the P&Z offers a recommendation that would give the city an ordinance that would withstand legal challenge. He said a performance-based ordinance with verifiable decibel-level readings would accomplish that goal.
Garrett said the city would eventually have to take a closer look at how it fines violators. He said in some other places, businesses pay the daily fines for violating noise ordinances as a “matter of doing business.”
Garrett said without considering serious punitive actions, any ordinance the city writes “will have no teeth.”
P&Z member Barbara Curtis said she had researched areas like Sarasota and St. Petersburg. She noted those decibel limits were much lower than what the city was proposing in its initial draft.
Garrett said city staff takes no ownership in what was being presented. He said it was being presented intentionally to be scrutinized for changes.
There were several other minor issues the board took issue with, but better testing of decibel levels before reviewing the ordinance further was top on the board’s list.
The tests will be performed during nighttime activities around Bradenton Beach and presented to the P&Z for further discussion and recommendation at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.