PORT RICHEY — The council's plan to quiet the city backfired Monday night, as residents packed City Hall to sound off against the noise law that they say has silenced their nights out and crippled their businesses.
About a half-dozen waterfront business leaders rallied last week against the city's newly energized enforcement of a law banning businesses from amplifying sound outdoors, leading Mayor Richard Rober to call Monday's emergency meeting. About 80 local residents filled the council chambers to standing-room-only, including a married couple who brought their guitars.
"We're entertainers. We've lost so many jobs over this," said Mary Bendall, who with her husband, John, plays local shows as the Bendeys. She stood before the meeting at Ridge Road, using her pink cowboy hat and yellow Squier guitar to direct passers-by into the meeting. "This is to prove a point. What good is a guitar without an amplifier?"
The law explicitly bans outdoor radios, TVs and live music, the bread and butter of bars and restaurants advertising patios and tiki huts with views of the Cotee River. But the current code — based on a 20-year-old law changed in recent years to, among other things, decriminalize fast-food drive-through speakers — was rarely a problem until last month, when the City Council directed police to enforce the code more vigorously.
That led to some businesses getting $65 tickets and orders to turn it down, which general manager Louis LaMacchia of Catches said cost him about $10,000 in lost sales over a weekend.
"Port Richey has nothing to add but the waterfront," Roland Briere, a 20-year resident, said Monday. "You have basically just sounded the death knell for Port Richey. That's it. We're dead."
Attorney Steve Booth, who has served as a spokesman for the businesses, called the noise law "very unusual," adding, "We've done a lot of checking, and we haven't seen a similar ordinance anywhere." He has said the city could face a legal challenge if a fair compromise isn't reached.
Residents said car and boat traffic on U.S. 19 and the Cotee River is often louder than the businesses' patios. Some said they believed established decibel limits would make more sense.
"These businesses play Jimmy Buffett till 10 at night, okay?" said Gary Kempf, a resident since 1991. "They're not playing Ozzy Osbourne till 2 a.m."
The council will discuss the ordinance next Tuesday at a workshop and general meeting, during which a policy change could come to a vote.