ST. PETERSBURG — Faced with growing complaints about boisterous patrons, the blare of music concerts and thumping nightclubs, the City Council is considering revamping its noise ordinance.
The city wants to switch from using sound level meters to regulate noise to a plainly audible standard. That means police officers would have the authority to determine what "too loud" means.
That concerns some downtown business owners, who worry that the absence of a common standard gives police officers too much leeway.
"It is a very vague noise ordinance," said Jack Bodziak, who owns several downtown businesses, including the State Theatre, Jannus Landing Courtyard and Hammerhead Island Grill. "You could end up with a police officer who will interpret it differently than the next guy who comes through."
But city officials said sound level meters aren't always reliable because they are based on noise averages over a period of time, which can fluctuate if, for example, a band takes a break between songs.
"There are just too many factors involved, the humidity, the temperature, whether it rains," City Attorney John Wolfe said.
The City Council initially approved the proposed ordinance earlier this month. The council will vote on the ordinance again on June 19. If approved, police officers could start using the new standard as early as late June.
The proposed ordinance prohibits noise plainly audible to any person at a distance of up to 200 feet from the source of the sound from 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. if the operator does not have an event permit from the city.
For event organizers that do have a permit, the ordinance prohibits noise plainly audible to any person as far as 5,000 feet, or nearly a mile, from the source of the sound.
City sponsored events held in a park or right of way are exempt from the noise regulations.
Plainly audible is defined as any sound, "which can be heard by any reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities."
The city's current noise ordinance requires police officers to use a noise meter for enforcement.
The ordinance prohibits decibel levels louder than 75 during the day, 70 during early evening hours, and 60 decibels late at night and in the early morning.
Loud noise is a growing issue downtown, which has become simultaneously more urban and residential in recent years.
In 2004, the Police Department received 33 complaints about possible noise violations. In 2006, 148 complaints were made.
Judy Ellis, who represents the local chapter Noise Free America, an anti-noise group, said sound level meters make it difficult to enforce noise regulations.
"Using the plainly audible standard really relies on common sense," she said.
"It comes down to if the neighbors can hear it and it's disturbing them, then it's a problem. It doesn't require someone coming down and saying, 'Well, the noise meter is only at 55 decibels so it's not illegal.' "
But Ellis said allowing noise to carry 5,000 feet during a public event is too generous.
"Why should someone in their own home be forced to listen to someone else's music?" she said.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.