TAMPA — With nuisance complaints about Ford Amphitheatre's concerts on the rise, Hillsborough County officials are considering changes to the rule that targets noise violators.
County officials say these changes will give all residents, including those who live near the Interstate 4 concert venue, as much protection as they have now. But some residents fret that the changes will weaken the rule, stripping them of their right to complain.
"It will legalize the excessive noise that has disturbed our neighborhood in the past," said Temple Terrace resident Edward Schroering. "The public will have no legal footing to protect our neighborhoods from the ridiculously loud concerts."
County commissioners will consider the changes on Thursday morning when they meet as the board of the Environmental Protection Commission, which oversees the county's noise rule. The meeting could inflame a dispute between the operators of the Ford Amphitheatre and nearby residents that started in 2004 when the facility was built on land owned by the Florida State Fairgrounds.
Residents lodged more than 400 noise complaints during the next two years. A subsequent lawsuit cost the county more than $600,000 in legal fees as it tried to get the amphitheater to comply with noise rules.
The original operator of the amphitheater, Clear Channel, spun off its entertainment division into a company called Live Nation that settled with Hillsborough in 2005. It agreed to build a massive wall designed to absorb noise.
Live Nation completed the $2.6-million wall in 2007, and complaints plummeted. But they've increased in 2008, said Jerry Campbell, the director of the EPC's air management division.
Nearly 50 people complained this summer, including nine for the July 27 Snoop Dogg and 311 concert and 15 for the Slipknot show two days later.
Even though she didn't attend the concert, Flora Phillips vividly recalls Slipknot, a thrash metal band.
Phillips was more than a mile away, working on a puzzle in the family room of her Sligh Avenue house.
"Almost every other word the lead singer was shouting was the f-word," Phillips said. "It was really rude."
Campbell said residents like Phillips will be better off with the changes because they will make the county's measurements of noise violations more precise, and, in turn, more enforceable.
Right now, it's a violation if a noise exceeds 65 decibels, even for a fraction of a second. The change that Campbell and the EPC staff are recommending would make it a violation if, over a 10-minute period, a noise averages more than 70 decibels. So a lone spike would no longer qualify as a violation if the average also didn't exceed that level.
Schroering said that gives Live Nation too much leeway to exceed current noise limits.
Currently, a violation would sound much like a car door slamming 10 feet away, he said. With the change, that door slam would no longer qualify, nor would three or four slams.
"Repeated slamming would be permitted, whereas it is now illegal," Schroering said.
While Campbell said the EPC would try to get the violator in such a scenario to comply, he did concede that it would be more difficult if they fell below allowed volume levels. But he disagreed with Schroering's car door analogy, claiming that acoustical experts say measuring the duration of a noise, rather than instantaneous jumps in sound, is a fairer way to determine if a noise is a nuisance.
The EPC is recommending a second change — bolstering restrictions on lower-octave sounds after 11 p.m. Ybor City, the Channelside District and downtown would become exempt from EPC noise enforcement.
In cases involving fireworks and noise from entertainment events in those areas, Tampa police would resort to keeping the peace, Campbell said.
Asked if he could guarantee that the rule changes would better protect residents, Campbell said: "Yes, we believe so."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-2402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.