The sound coming from Port Richey City Hall last week was the shredding of yet another municipal noise-control ordinance. Rightly so. As originally proposed, the latest quest to quiet noise complaints was heavy-handed and resembled little more than a thinly disguised attempt to pull the plug on all entertainment at waterside bars and restaurants.
A council majority, with the help of about 20 business owners, entertainers and residents, recognized the unfairness of an over-reaching plan to let police measure noise 50 feet from the source. In effect, it would end live music or even loud talking inside a business.
Instead, the council stuck with its current standard — embedded in an emergency ordinance adopted 15 months ago — to measure noise from the property line.
It is a reasonable rule that is more in tune with ordinances in other jurisdictions, notably Pasco County, where commercial noise is considered at "the nearest closest adjacent residentially zoned property line'' and sound in residential neighborhoods is measured at the property line of the noise source.
The latest rewrite of the city ordinance, which still must be approved by Council on a second reading, is indicative of Port Richey's never-ending effort of trying to balance the rights of residents to enjoy domestic tranquility with the desires of business owners seeking to lure customers to their waterfront locations. The city's relatively tiny size, and previous spot zoning decisions that put commercial enterprises in residential areas, exacerbate the dilemma.
Much of the debate has been heard before because of a previous archaic and overbearing ordinance that contained no decibel-level standards and instead prohibited amplified noise outdoors. A September 2010 crackdown triggered high-profile balking from the hospitality industry and resulted in a temporary ordinance that still guides enforcement today.
The most recent attempt to supplant the 2010 ordinance with a permanent measure spurred the latest brouhaha that brought citizens to the council chambers April 10. Some expressed fears of civil liberty violations from police coming uninvited on private property to enforce the 50-foot rule.
Setting noise rules shouldn't lead to such boisterous objections. Peace and quiet will be hard to come by if the key to enforcement is an intruding decibel meter. Likewise, the bars and restaurants should be cognizant of the potential noise complaints and turn down the volume when asked. A good cover band might bring in the crowd, but being a good neighbor is never bad for business, either.