For more than two decades, Port Richey's City Council and police have been trying to conduct a three-part harmony of cash registers, guitars, and domestic tranquility. The effort is still out of tune. There have been work sessions and rewrites of the city's noise controls and still Port Richey is unable to strike a balance between the rights of the citizenry to peace and quiet and the desires of the hospitality industry to attract and retain a clientele.
Enforcement of the city's noise ordinance — which gained regional notoriety in the late 1980s for shutting down a live radio broadcast from a top-rated morning show — began anew last weekend with police citing waterfront restaurants/taverns for excessive noise.
Unfortunately, the vague ordinance sets no decibel-level standards for outdoor dining and entertainment areas. It simply prohibits all amplified sound outdoors. That means noise from a television set, radio, stereo, or an acoustic guitar played through a speaker — even if it comes from inside a building with open windows — can trigger citations.
It is an overbearing rule that is counterproductive to the city's desire to boost business and the long-range goal of stimulating development in an overlay district along the Pithlachascotee River. The overlay allows businesses to remain open until 2 a.m., an unlikely prospect if music or a big screen television are prohibited outdoors.
Among the businesses targeted by the city was Whiskey River, a bar and restaurant on the south side of the river in a mostly residential area. Blame for that situation, however, rests largely with the city because a past council authorized a commercial establishment in a residential neighborhood.
That brouhaha aside, the current citation-writing campaign, after years of lax or nonexistent enforcement, is detrimental to the city's businesses. One eatery received citations four days in a row for playing classic rock as background ambiance.
Why would the private sector make significant investments within the city at the same time police are citing current businesses for violating an archaic ordinance? It's a question likely being asked by the owners of Catches Waterfront Grill, which just added a 3,500-square-foot tiki bar. The manager estimated lost revenue at $10,000 for three consecutive days of people leaving when they discovered the music had been turned off.
Instead of prohibiting all amplified noise — effectively shutting down entertainment on outdoor decks — the city should draft an ordinance that regulates noise based on the time of day and is measurable at a specific decibel level from a set distance from the source. It's much more fair than simply banning noise.
The public displeasure at the recent spat of citations has prompted a special council meeting Monday. Council members must not ignore the complaints. Balancing the interests of residents and business owners requires more than turning a deaf ear to noisy gripes.