Though it fumbled at times, the city of Tampa has worked in good faith to fairly resolve noise concerns in the bar district along S Howard Avenue. A lawsuit filed against the city faulting its noise ordinance as overly broad and unconstitutional is about the worst way of addressing the real and ongoing impacts that the commercial district is having on the neighborhood. The noise ordinance needs to be strong and clear, and the city must remain committed to balancing business interests with larger quality-of-life concerns in Hyde Park.
The tavern World of Beer claims in its suit that the city lacks the authority to regulate noise in the popular SoHo bar and restaurant area. That authority, the suit claims, rests with Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission, which regulates noise as it does other pollutants, such as those affecting water and air.
The company, which this year received three citations for loud music, alleges the regulations are confusing, overly intrusive and arbitrary. And it claims the city lacks a "legitimate government interest in regulating sound that is compatible" with permitted land uses in SoHo — a salvo that points to how far development has unhinged sound planning along the Howard corridor.
The EPC's authority does not preclude other local government agencies from adopting a variety of other land-development rules of their own. If World of Beer wants clarity from the courts as a prelude to establishing clearer and more uniform noise limits — fine. And it's clear the city needs to sharpen its enforcement of the regulations. But sloppy ticket-writing does not make the noise limits moot or unreasonable. And the idea the city doesn't have a reason for regulating noise in a mixed-use neighborhood makes no sense. The residences were in Hyde Park long before the bars. And the homes and businesses long supported each other. The difference now is that SoHo's new brand identity is hijacking the entire discussion over what's appropriate for the area.
The city helped create this mess by allowing S Howard to overdevelop. But it's too late to turn back the clock. The city and business community need to recognize that the impacts are real and that noise and other nuisance problems on Howard diminish both the residential nature of Hyde Park and SoHo's commercial appeal.
The residents have legitimate complaints, and they should no more have to accept the noise on Howard than bar owners should have to accept an arbitrary noise ordinance. The city can do better and the bars must. And by working together, the two sides might find what they likely won't in court — a mutually beneficial and durable way to coexist.