Kool and the Gang played from two speakers outside Bradenton Beach City Hall on the afternoon of March 20.
Spectators swayed to the music as Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale took the microphone. “Sound check,” he said. “Testing. One. Two. Three.”
But Speciale wasn’t preparing for karaoke. Instead, he was conducting a decibel-level demonstration during the final public hearing for a sound ordinance.
About 50 residents attended to voice opinions on the proposed measure — largely in opposition to changing the commercial decibel levels at night to a sliding scale that would decrease in volume every few hours from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.
The main purpose of the ordinance is to address resident’s concerns related to live entertainment and amplified music offered at businesses in the Bridge Street area. The city planning and zoning board held several meetings on the topic and recommended lowering the decibel levels in the commercial district.
After hearing the demonstration in the parking lot and following more than an hour of public comment on the topic inside chambers, commissioners unanimously approved the new ordinance with a clause allowing the decibel levels to be measured from the property line of the complainant rather than at the source of the sound.
Some say the change could end up increasing the decibel levels of music instead of lowering it.
“For two years I’ve been trying to get the sound ordinance changed,” said Doreen Flynn, manager of the Drift-In tavern, 120 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. “So what do they do? They decide to measure it from my property. If it’s 75 decibels where I am, it’s going to be 120 decibels from the source. I just can’t believe they did that.”
Bridge Street has established a reputation as a hub of entertainment on Anna Maria Island, especially after 10 p.m., when many restaurants in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach close.
However, some residents with homes near Bridge Street, like Terry Winford, have complained about noise.
The back of Winford’s home in the Pines Trailer Park at Bridge Street and Church Avenue is about 2 feet from the parking lot of the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
“We are very close and the music can be a nuisance,” she said. “Sometimes it even shakes the trailer.”
The sound demonstration in the parking lot of city hall was intended to provide a better understanding of decibel levels and readings, said city planner Alan Garrett.
“Today, primarily, we are looking at what type of decibel levels to allow within the commercial district,” he said. “We want to give you examples of different levels of music and see what kind of readings we get.”
People stood about 40 feet from the speakers to approximate the distance from a property line of a business.
Speciale experimented with different levels of volume and many of those attending agreed that music played that rated 65 decibels was too low for live entertainment.
Then people were asked to move to the Tingley Memorial Library parking lot adjacent to the city parking lot, about 100 feet from the speakers. Garrett said that if a decibel reading could not be taken from the property line of a business, it would be taken at a distance of 100 feet. The added distance between speakers and listeners allowed for a decrease in sound equal to about 10 decibels.
At one point, people were asked to clap hands and the sound meter registered 90 decibels.
“For music, 75 is tolerable, but 65 is just too low,” said Margie Motzer, who said she frequents Bridge Street for the music scene. “I wish they would consider making it higher because people come there to enjoy themselves.”
Under the new noise ordinance, outdoor music will be allowed until 10 p.m., and live indoor music can take place until 1 p.m. Establishments can play music at 85 decibels 7 a.m.-7 p.m., but that number shrinks to 75 decibels between the hours of 7 p.m.-10 p.m., and then must be turned down to 65 decibels 10 p.m.-2 a.m. It decreases again to 55 decibels 2 a.m.-7 a.m.
After the demonstration, the crowd gathered outdoors went into the cramped quarters of city hall chambers to comment on the record about the ordinance.
Most of those who spoke took issue with the restrictions between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m., because they said it was prime time for live entertainment.
Adam Jenkins, president of the Bridge Street Merchants, presented the city commission with a petition and two pages of signatures opposing the change. Jenkins said he also conducted a survey of real estate agencies with rental properties in Bradenton Beach, asking property managers if they had complaints within the past three months. Most of them, he said, rarely had grievances regarding music or noise.
Other business owners said losing live music could be detrimental to their business and threaten their livelihoods.
Following public comment, commissioners voted to change several key factors in the ordinance.
While commissioners were in favor of the sliding scale, they said they would allow the sound to be read from the complainant’s property line rather than from the source.
“After hearing the demonstration, I think the decibel level in the ordinance is too low,” Vice Mayor Janie Robertson said.
The commission also voted to strike a clause from the ordinance that required indoor speakers to be placed 15 feet from any wall, which many residents felt was an unrealistic space constraint considering some establishments may not be 30 feet wide.
But the biggest argument against the ordinance was that it could jeopardize commercial success.
Many of the people who spoke own businesses on Bridge Street.
Fred Bartizal, owner of the Bridge Tender Inn, 135 Bridge St., said he started coming to the island in the 1950s and, during the past decade, his restaurant has evolved to employ 63 people.
Bartizal was emotional as he spoke.
“The city and the merchants have really come together and it’s become a real family,” he said. “Why argue with success? This is a great place and people come specifically to Bridge Street to be a part of that.”
Angela Rodecker, co-owner of Bridgewalk, a motel at 100 Bridge St., spoke of the inevitable change in the Bridge Street area in the recent decades.
“There are a lot of people ahead of us that spent a lot of time, energy and money to put sidewalks in and to put street lights in, so that Bridge Street could be what it is today,” she said. “But do you know where we would be if we hadn’t changed? Five dilapidated buildings. Yes, there is change. Yes, the street has evolved. And yes, it’s different from it used to be. But it’s working.”
The commission unanimously approved the amended ordinance, which immediately went into effect.