DUNEDIN — Break out the party bells and kazoos!
Holiday revelers will be able to party extra hard here after the City Commission voted 5-0 last week to write an automatic New Year's Eve noise exemption into city code.
The ordinance change means that each year between 11 p.m. Dec. 31 and 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1, celebrants citywide can continue to enjoy outdoor music and other noise rather than have to shut it down at 11 p.m. Previously, businesses and restaurants had to seek City Commission approval annually.
But don't get too loud, mind you. Police will still be enforcing the portion of city code that caps noise during permissible hours at 65 decibels.
"It's not about partying. It's just bringing in the New Year and being able to enjoy entertainment," said Wendy Barmore, president of the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association. "You don't want to stop music at 11 (p.m.) when New Year's is at midnight."
Officials have said the ordinance is aimed at increasing exposure and generating revenue for the city by encouraging local New Year's Eve festivities.
Barmore, who gathered more than 400 signatures from supportive residents and merchants this year, asked that she be spared the exhausting task in the future.
"I agree," said Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski. "You're celebrating New Year's Eve at midnight. …We need to accommodate that."
Mayor Dave Eggers was slightly concerned.
"Last year I think it worked out fine and there were no problems. I guess we could always revoke it if it started having problems," he said. "I don't anticipate any."
There are few venues that even host New Year's celebrations, Barmore said, and the city or merchants association could address any problems with individual businesses.
Several downtown residents and businesses said they don't expect any problems either.
Downtown, once such a hotbed for ruckus that the city in 2010 formed a Live Work Play Sleep task force to mediate the issue, has since virtually eliminated the once-problematic noise factor, they said.
Likewise, city manager assistant Matthew Campbell said the city has received "close to zilch" complaints in the last two years. Officials largely attribute the improvements to self-policing by the business community, as well as to the closure of the Angry Pirate, installation of a noise-measurement device at Jolli Mons and the removal of live bands from the back patio of Kelly's Chic-A-Boom Room.
Meranova Guest Inn co-owner Frank Baiamonte said he and his partner built their business downtown so guests could enjoy the many offerings. He called the New Year's Eve noise exemption a "logical" decision. "There are certain nights when you expect elevated noise levels," Baiamonte said, adding that the former racket he once complained about is gone. "New Year's Eve is one of those."
Karen Lakritz, who loves downtown entertainment so much she moved 15 years ago to Wood Street in spite of a daily commute of up to an hour to work in New Port Richey, and Tony Beneri of Edgewater Drive agreed.
"New Year's is at midnight. It's once a year," Beneri said, then wisecracked: "12:30 is very fair. You give them a half hour to be stupid and then they go home. … Even cranky people like me wouldn't complain."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.