TAMPA — A craft beer tavern at ground zero in the tug of war between S Howard Avenue's growing bar scene and surrounding neighborhoods on Thursday sued the city of Tampa over its noise ordinance.
World of Beer, at 402 S Howard Ave., this year has received three citations for loud music with fines totaling $900.
But World of Beer said that on two occasions the police officer who wrote the ticket cited a section of city code that does not exist and that the tickets, while talking about music coming from World of Beer, do not specify the source of the noise and do not accurately use the language of the city's ordinance.
Such inconsistencies "illustrate the misleading, confusing and inconsistent nature" of city rules regarding noise, according the company's 55-page lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court.
World of Beer is seeking guidance from the court so that its employees know what sound level standards they have to adhere to in order to comply with the law, said the tavern's attorney, Mark Bentley of Tampa.
Tampa's noise standard "is not only vague and overly broad and leads to arbitrary enforcement, but is an impractical, unrealistic and unreasonable standard to be applied in the SoHo District," Bentley said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.
Further complicating the matter is the density of bars and clubs in SoHo's nightlife scene, according to the suit. Since 2008, it says, the city has approved about 20 permits for businesses to sell alcohol within 1,000 feet of the World of Beer.
The density of these businesses makes enforcement of city noise rules "completely unreasonable and arbitrary, as the standard does not require enforcement officers to distinguish surrounding sounds and noise factors from an alleged violator's noise levels," according to the suit.
World of Beer also contends the city's ordinance varies its approach from place to place — the SoHo District and Ybor City have different rules, it says — and in ways that restrict some types of noise while tolerating others. For example, the suit contends that someone playing an amplified electric guitar in Lykes Gaslight Square Park could be cited if the music was plainly audible at a distance of 100 feet, while someone playing an acoustic guitar couldn't.
And there's another problem, the lawsuit says. It contends that the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, created by a special act of the Legislature, has a role in regulating noise that pre-empts the city from having its own standards.
"Just as a premise, I don't agree with that," said Rick Tschantz, the general counsel for the EPC, which is named as a defendant along with the city. But he said he was still reading the suit and was not ready to comment. "We really need to take a good look at this."
The World of Beer's lawsuit asks a judge to find that Tampa does not have the authority to regulate noise except for entertainment or musical events in downtown, Ybor City and the Channel District — areas covered by an exemption in the EPC's noise rules.
Tampa City Attorney Julia Mandell, whose policy is not to discuss pending litigation, said she hadn't read the suit and couldn't comment.
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Danielson_Times.