PORT RICHEY — After all the sound and fury last fall when the city suspended one noise ordinance and enacted a new one, officials said this week that little has changed: Residents are still getting their doors rattled by loud music, and restaurants and bars on the Pithlachascotee River have not turned it down.
"I've not noticed any difference in the noise coming from these places," City Council member Bill Colombo said at a workshop Tuesday night.
The blowup began in September, when officials began enforcing the city's ban on all outdoor amplified sound, handing out $65 tickets to restaurants playing loud music on the patio. Angry protesters packed City Hall to complain the hushed ambiance was driving away thousands of dollars in business.
The council voted in October to suspend that ban, and crafted an ordinance that focused more on policing decibel levels. But some council members said the new ordinance meant nothing but the status quo.
One resident said her home still shakes from music coming from Whiskey River, a bar and grill on the south side of the river where past councils approved the business in a primarily residential area.
"I understand what she is going through, because I am living it," council member Nancy Britton said of dealing with noise from local bars and restaurants.
During past confrontations with the council, business owners "threw their weight around," and not much has changed for residents, Britton said.
Colombo asked whether police had been monitoring decibel levels at local businesses. Businesses cannot exceed 55 decibels after 10 p.m., and must keep noise at 60 decibels or below all other times. (A normal conversation is about 60 decibels.) The noise level would be measured from the property line.
"I am not so much worried about complaints as I am about the decibel levels," Colombo said.
He called on police Chief Dave Brown, who is also serving as interim city manager, to have his officers get decibel readings from area businesses and compile a report to gauge compliance. That report could be crucial, as it could spur another round of citations for noise ordinance violations — the same kinds of tickets that set off last fall's firestorm.
The climate in Port Richey remains ripe for confrontation over the issue, as businesses that need to draw in customers by offering a fun environment will continue to clash with residents seeking peace and quiet, Mayor Richard Rober said.
"It's a really difficult relationship," he told the council.
While Britton painted a picture of bullying business owners, an attorney representing Whiskey River at Tuesday's workshop expressed a desire for cooperation.
Tampa attorney Kristin Tolbert asked the council for a meeting to discuss compromises and said Whiskey River's owner wants to cooperate. She also pledged to talk to residents about their concerns.
Tolbert said her desire would be to find a mutually agreeable solution that would keep Whiskey River in business and while allowing it to co-exist with residents.