NEW PORT RICHEY — A promised crackdown is coming for violators of a newly revised noise ordinance in New Port Richey.
City Council members on Tuesday night unanimously approved the ordinance, which not only keeps recently approved decibel levels for certain hours of the day in residential and nonresidential areas, but also adds language geared toward dealing with sound that meters do not pick up, such as low-level bass coming from establishments and vehicles.
Another change, which raised eyebrows on the council and among some members of the public, allows police officers to use their own ears to determine whether to issue a citation.
The original ordinance set the maximum level in residential areas at 55 decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and to 50 decibels from 10:01 p.m. to 6:59 a.m. In nonresidential areas, up to 70 decibels is allowed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and the limit drops to 55 decibels from 11:01 p.m. to 6:59 a.m. The ordinance allows police officers to take meter readings from any property adjacent to a site identified by a complainant.
As a comparison, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists typical sound levels for a conversation 3 feet away at 60 decibels, classroom chatter at 70 decibels and a nightclub with music at 110 decibels.
Several months after the initial ordinance was enacted, complaints over noise continued to pour in from the public as meters failed to pick up low-frequency sound and ambient noise coming from downtown restaurants and bars.
In response, the city staff added to the ordinance a provision allowing police to issue a citation if officers can hear noise that is "plainly audible from any property at a distance of 100 feet from the property line of the property which is the source of the sound between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m."
Also, the ordinance now bans "sound-amplifying equipment located on or within any motor vehicle plainly audible from a distance of 100 feet."
Passage of the ordinance nearly stalled as council members questioned whether the "plainly audible" language would hold up in court.
"Plainly audible is in the ear of the beholder, if you will," Mayor Rob Marlowe said.
Assurance from City Attorney Timothy Driscoll that such language has been approved by higher courts and is being used by other Florida jurisdictions — plus police Chief Kim Bogart's assertion that his officers can make cases that will hold up in court — led to the unanimous council vote.
Bogart said noise coming from downtown has become such a problem that he pledged strict enforcement if police receive verifiable complaints.
"At 11 o'clock, our gloves are going to come off," he said. "I'm really frustrated in dealing with this noise problem."
In other action, the council approved spending $150,000 for construction of two shade structures at Sims Parks, off Main Street. The expenditure is part of ongoing upgrades at the park over the past year that have cost more than $3 million.