ST. PETERSBURG — When downtown lacked a nightlife years ago, residents never heard music blaring from bars or from sidewalk cafes.
Now they do.
With downtown bustling almost every night, residents have pleaded with city officials to develop tougher regulations to curb loud noise.
A City Council committee agreed Thursday to hold two public forums before April so residents and business owners can offer comments on proposed rules.
"We can't open our doors and windows at night," said Robert Rowen, who lives in McNulty Lofts at 175 Second St. S. "The residents of downtown need help."
City staffers and council members acknowledge the balancing act of pleasing residents without creating laws that harm downtown businesses. Council member Charlie Gerdes proposed the forums after other members stressed that rules can't be proposed without hearing from businesses and residents.
Council member Steve Kornell supports curbing the excessive noise, but he cautioned that stringent rules would drive away young professionals and entrepreneurs living in the urban core.
"I don't want us to solve problems we don't have," he said. "Let's be reasonable and create the right regulations."
At recent council meetings, many residents in downtown towers have complained about amplified music blasting at 11 p.m. Others have talked about people screaming from balconies and rooftops at later times.
Residents aren't pushing for businesses to close earlier. They only want the noise trimmed so they can open windows in the winter, Rowen said. He and his wife moved into the tower four years ago, and now his wife wants to leave downtown.
"You don't want people like us to move," he told the committee.
The group agreed and discussed making businesses that play loud music close windows and doors, depending on the day and time.
City lawyers and the council had delayed modifying the noise ordinances until the Florida Supreme Court ruled on a lawsuit challenging a state law regulating noise from car stereos. A St. Petersburg lawyer spearheaded the case after being cited in 2007 for blaring a Justin Timberlake song in his car. The final ruling came Thursday, with the high court ruling that the statute is unconstitutional because it prohibits certain forms of speech while permitting others. The legal battle was closely watched by local governments throughout the state.
On Friday, Chief Assistant Attorney Mark Winn said he wasn't surprised by the ruling.
The court did not strike down part of the law dealing with the "plainly audible" measure to determine if noise is too loud. Winn sees that as a victory since St. Petersburg noise ordinances are based on how far away noise can be heard at certain times.
For example, noise can be the loudest between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. From 6 to 11 p.m., it cannot be heard from more than 200 feet. The distance drops to 50 feet after 11 p.m.
"We can enforce our city ordinances," he said. "That is good."
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459.