Tampa officials swamped with noise complaints

TAMPA — Thundering car stereos. Post-apocalyptic street parties. Loud-mouthed jerks roaming the streets with bullhorns.

These are the banes of working-class homeowners in East Tampa, high-rise condo dwellers in the Channel District and restaurateurs in Ybor City.

They also are the Achilles' heel of the city's noise ordinance.

The existing law is well-suited for limiting noise from non-moving sources such as construction sites and honky-tonk bars, officials told the City Council during a workshop Thursday.

But officials say the ordinance is not as useful when the noise comes from something on a public street — say, a car with a sub-woofer rumbling along like a sonic boom.

"It just shakes the windows and the doors of our homes," said Betty Bell, 70, who lives in the Highland Pines neighborhood in East Tampa.

One after another, East Tampa residents told council members of not being able to watch television or talk on the phone, of wearing earplugs to bed, even of hating to go home at night.

And it's not just car stereos, they said.

Impromptu block parties that are organized online increasingly attract hundreds of people, some from as far as Pinellas County. They crowd the sidewalks with cars and motorcycles, try to park in people's yards and act like they've never heard of common courtesy.

"These block parties are off the chain," Bell said. "They invade a neighborhood, and they just set up shop."

Nor are East Tampa residents alone.

Channelside residents complained of noisy crowds spilling out of bars and into parking lots after 3 a.m., beckoned by the braying calls of hot dog vendors.

In Ybor City, bullhorn-toting religious zealots are driving customers out of the historic district. Often, merchants say, waiters can't hear over the noise to take someone's order.

"Our big issue right now is bullhorns, on the sidewalk, right in front of people that are sitting in an outdoor cafe," said Vince Pardo, manager of the city's Ybor City Development Corp.

Tampa city attorneys said they might have found a solution.

The city's current noise ordinance focuses on noise coming from specific properties, and it calls for measuring noise in decibels at certain spots.

In downtown Tampa, Ybor City and the Channel District, the decibel readings must be made at the property line of the source of the noise. Throughout the rest of the city, the measurements must be made at the property line of the neighboring property closest to the source.

Trouble is, the measurements can get tricky when the noise is coming from a public street, attorneys say.

To address this problem, the city is looking at a Miami-Dade County noise ordinance based on not measuring noise in decibels but on whether the noise is audible at a specified distance from the source.

City attorneys said they are not talking about getting rid of Tampa's existing noise ordinance, but about adding a new section to the law.

Noise is a difficult issue, assistant city attorney Rebecca M. Kert told council members. The city last changed its noise ordinance five or six years ago, and only after a three-year process that entailed hiring experts from the University of Florida and holding numerous community meetings.

Miami-Dade's rule prohibits noise audible at a distance of 100 feet. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld restrictions on noise that authorities deem to be unreasonably loud and raucous, Kert said.

But she said a case currently pending before Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal could have an impact on whether the city could write its own Miami-style noise restriction.

That case, she said, concerns stereo noise coming from cars. She told council members that she anticipates a ruling soon and suggested that she report back after the court decides the case.

Until then, council members said the city should look into using other ordinances on illegal parking and vendor licensing to address some of the problems now costing residents sleep and merchants customers.

"It's not that we don't hear you," council Chairman Charlie Miranda told the crowd. "We do hear you. We want to address your issues."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa officials swamped with noise complaints 04/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 29, 2011 12:36am]

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