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Safety Harbor cafe, Clearwater neighbors clash over noise

A neon sign welcomes patrons to Cafe 13. The restaurant and lounge is tucked into the Southwest Oakbrook Plaza inside the Safety Harbor city limits. But residents who are complaining about noise from Cafe 13 live in Clearwater. 

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

A neon sign welcomes patrons to Cafe 13. The restaurant and lounge is tucked into the Southwest Oakbrook Plaza inside the Safety Harbor city limits. But residents who are complaining about noise from Cafe 13 live in Clearwater. 

SAFETY HARBOR — It was sometime in October 2006, and it was ladies night.

Cyndee Bowen, a mom and speech pathologist, was asleep in bed.

About midnight, she said, she was roused by some music and went to turn off her radio alarm.

She thought it was time to get up.

When Bowen realized that it was actually the middle of the night, she went to the room of her 24-year-old son, Kyle, thinking he was playing his music too loudly. But he was asleep.

It was then that she discovered that the thumping tunes were coming from Cafe 13, a restaurant and lounge more than 1,000 feet up the creek from her Clearwater home.

And so began a battle between the restaurant and the Bowens and their neighbors over what residents say is excessive noise. It is a simmering neighborhood-vs.-business controversy that has involved the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the city of Safety Harbor and county code enforcement officers.

That first night, Russ Bowen, Cyndee Bowen's husband, called the Sheriff's Office.

Paul Scagnelli, the restaurant's owner, came to the house himself.

Bowen accused Scagnelli of being obnoxious and using "the F-word while talking to my wife.''

And things have gotten worse since then.

"It's bothering quite a lot of people in this area,'' Cyndee Bowen said. "At least eight households have been bothered enough to be up in arms about it.''

From here the story gets complicated because of where Cafe 13 is located. It's tucked into the Southwest Oakbrook Plaza just inside the Safety Harbor city limits. But the residents who are complaining about the noise live in Clearwater.

Because Safety Harbor contracts with the Sheriff's Office to enforce the laws, that department has been responding to complaints — 39 so far. Safety Harbor City Manager Matthew Spoor said he is encouraging deputies to write citations if the music is too loud.

Pinellas County code enforcement has also been involved, trying to assist residents who appealed to it for help.

The Sheriff's Office responded to noise complaints 10 times so far this year, 24 times in 2007 and five times in 2006.

Deputies have issued four citations for noise violations. Each carries a $213 fine.

The deputies use their ears to decide whether a place is too loud and raucous.

County code enforcement officers use a meter to measure the noise. Officials from the department visited the Countrypark subdivision, where the Bowens live, half a dozen times, "but the level of the music never exceeded maximum limits,'' said Todd Myers, the county's code enforcement director. He added that the maximum limit after 11 p.m. is 55 decibels — a little lower than the noise generated by a normal conversation.

"I personally went out there, and when I was on the street, on Landmark, all I heard were cars driving by on McMullen-Booth Road,'' Myers said.

• • •

Paul Scagnelli bought the restaurant, formerly called Alley Cats Cafe, two years ago.

He decorated it with interesting finds. Out back is a patio overlooking a tree-lined creek where a man plays guitar and sings Jimmy Buffett music some evenings and a DJ performs other evenings.

Scagnelli said Russ Bowen has been calling almost nonstop since the day he took ownership.

In response, Scagnelli said, he has taken proactive steps to reduce the noise, including removing speakers, aiming other speakers away from neighborhoods, planting more trees out back, installing a volume meter near the patio where the stage is and hiring a sound engineer to test the noise levels around Cafe 13 and at the Countrypark neighborhood.

But Russ Bowen is always angry, Scagnelli said.

Scagnelli suspects that Russ Bowen might have "a bionic ear,'' because the restaurant's sound engineer, Curtis Dambeck, doesn't detect excessive noise levels with his equipment.

"The guy must have dog ears,'' Dambeck said.

He said that when he measures the sound near the Bowen home, birds, traffic and a nearby transformer are louder than Cafe 13's music.

Scagnelli acknowledges that the Bowens may hear some Cafe 13 music at their home, but says it shouldn't be loud enough to disrupt their lives.

He pointed out that some of the offending music may be coming from Big Shots Sports Bar or Audio Impact Studios, both of which are just southwest of Cafe 13 and are closer to the Bowens' house.

He said the only time Russ Bowen "miraculously'' did not complain about the noise was when his son, Kyle, worked as a dishwasher at Cafe 13 for several months last year.

That turned sour when Kyle cut his thumb on a broken dish. The injury required four stitches at a cost of more than $1,600. Russ Bowen claims Cafe 13 did not have workers' compensation insurance and refused to pay for Kyle's medical care.

Russ Bowen said he ended up footing the bill, and Kyle went back to work. One day, however, he didn't go in for his shift, and his relationship with Cafe 13 was over.

Scagnelli said he has workers' comp insurance and doesn't know anything about Russ Bowen's claim that he refused to pay for Kyle's stitches.

Both men remain angry.

Russ Bowen just wants to get some sleep.

Scagnelli just wants Russ Bowen off his back.

It may happen. Last week, residents took their complaints to the Pinellas County Commission.

On Wednesday — ladies night again — there was an improvement, Russ Bowen said.

"It's still somewhat bothersome,'' he said. "It actually woke us up at 1 a.m. It kind of subsided, and it flared up again. It's not a total fix. They've got some work to do.''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Safety Harbor cafe, Clearwater neighbors clash over noise 05/01/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 4, 2008 11:51am]

    

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