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HB ponders complexity of noise ordinance

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

From nightlife to city-sponsored events to a neighbor’s air conditioner and pool pump, Holmes Beach city officials acknowledge the long road ahead for a noise ordinance that can satisfy the majority of citizens.

The terminology of “being a good neighbor” surfaces often in such discussions, but it is sometimes a challenge to believe that everyone will embrace goodwill in an ordinance.

According to 83rd Street resident Bob Kelly, who addressed the city commission at a Dec. 12 work session, not everyone is a good neighbor.

“I wanted to retire here,” said Kelly. “Things were going along pretty good until we got one of the big homes built next to us.”

Kelly said he had no issue with the structure. In fact, he said, he thought the design was beautiful until he noticed in the drawing that air conditioners would be a couple of dozen feet away from his master bedroom.

Kelly said he spoke to developer Shawn Kaleta about his concerns and received encouragement that the air conditioners would be placed on the other side of the home.

“I walked away happy until the house started going up and I saw the air conditioner contractor start to put up two of those big units right by my master bedroom,” said Kelly. “I asked how he was going to fit two of those units there, and he said it’s not two units, it’s three units.”

Kelly said he will never have another quiet moment in his retirement home because the city allows mechanical equipment in the side setbacks of residential properties.

Commission Chair Judy Titsworth said she had a similar issue with a generator placed next door to her home, “but we are all bound to the ordinances we have on the books right now,” noting it’s this kind of issue the commission is addressing.

Building official Tom O’Brien said it’s just one of many concerns in moving forward with a noise ordinance.

City officials are narrowing down a possible decibel level and current codes call for less than 50 decibels from the source of the noise measured to a complainant’s door or window.

Kelly said one air conditioner would likely exceed 50 decibels; so three units would “destroy our quality of life.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said the city needs to be careful what it determines the decibel level to be in a new ordinance that will go from subjective enforcement to performance-based enforcement with a decibel meter.

“I have a retired neighbor that has an old, squeaky air conditioner that I know is over 50 decibels,” said Zaccagnino. “But it doesn’t bother me.”

Zaccagnino said the city shouldn’t place a hardship on anyone once a new ordinance is enforced.

Commissioner Jean Peelen asked if the city could impose limits on decibel levels based on manufacturer standards and simply limit the installation of new units that produce less than a set amount of decibels.

Zaccagnino said the city tried it with pool pumps in 2011, “but the commission decided it wasn’t a good idea. I think it is a good idea.”

Titsworth said the city should take it another step.

“My opinion is that anything that makes noise shouldn’t be in a setback,” she said. “No pumps, no generators, no air conditioner units. We tell the developer that ‘if you do, you better spend the money to buffer it.’”

Titsworth said research is in order to see what other cities do, and Commissioner Marvin Grossman agreed.

He said someone like Kelly is “essentially being committed to a life sentence. I do think this is a serious issue.”

Commissioner Pat Morton said it’s situations like the one Kelly is facing that are causing the city to lose permanent residents.

“When we get into this ordinance, we have to help people out like him, because that’s who we are losing. We really need to step back and look at this from a development point, because it’s a runaway train,” Morton said.

Titsworth suggested that the builder be notified immediately that if air conditioners violate the current ordinance by producing more than 50 decibels at Kelly’s window, “we are going to have an issue with it.”

And Peelen didn’t mix words: “It’s just so damn depressing that something new comes every day from the monster houses. We addressed making pools go back further, to have pool equipment baffled, try to control cars and excess parking. It’s just so depressing that some developers are doing this for profit.”

Mayor Carmel Monti asked Kelly to be patient.

“We’ve inherited a lot of things that were in place for a long time here,” he said. “We can do it with ordinances, but as you saw, some people will find a way to take advantage of it. We also have to keep tightening the ordinances and use code enforcement.”

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