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Cities hope to tune out "booming' cars

Some afternoons, all Warde Chittenden wants is to watch his favorite television program or curl up with a good book, but the sounds of distant thunder make that impossible. "In my back room where the TV is, the windows rattle," Chittenden said.

Chittenden and his Belleair Beach neighbors who live at the end of the Belleair Causeway are the victims of the cars that go boom. But it's not the boom of car engines backfiring.

It's the latest expression of motorist exuberance: cars that are souped up with powerful speakers that shake windows and rattle some people's nerves.

"It's a pollution of the environment in the worst sense of the word," said Chittenden, 52, who is retired from the Army. "I wouldn't call anything I'm hearing inside my house music."

Chittenden and other residents who have taken their complaints to City Hall and police may get some relief soon.

The Belleair Beach City Council is considering an ordinance that deals specifically with car stereos.

"If they hear Belleair Beach has a law, I'm hoping it will make them turn their music down to avoid a $50 ticket," said Kaye Woolcott, presiding officer of the council.

The city is not alone in its quest to solve the noise problem. Just across the causeway, Belleair Bluffs is trying to come up with a similar ordinance.

"I think it is very kind of people to let me listen to their music if they want to let me hear it, but I don't need it," Belleair Bluffs Vice Mayor Barbara Jonas said.

Jonas, who has supported noise ordinances in her city for more than a decade, said motorists driving booming cars have found a short cut to the beach through her neighborhood.

"I just think there's a lot of excessive noise that we don't need to hear," Jonas said. "It's not conducive to the quality of life."

Belleair Bluffs' only noise law concerns barking dogs. Officials are considering going further than car stereos. They are looking into limiting such things as construction and lawn mowing to certain times of day.

Belleair Beach officials are looking to Clearwater for guidance.

Clearwater's anti-noise law had been struck down as unconstitutional, but that decision was reversed last year. The ordinance gives the police authority to ticket motorists whose music can be heard 50 feet from the source.

Clearwater police Lt. Frank Palombo believes the ordinance has gone a long way toward eliminating many problems on Clearwater Beach.

"When you've got the number of cars and the number of kids that we have, they flat out rattle windows," Palombo said. "We used to write a lot of tickets, but we're not writing as many now because the kids are getting the message."

The fine is $30 for each violation. Palombo said there is some talk about increasing penalties for people ticketed more than once, a move he would support.

Belleair Beach's proposed ordinance is similar to Clearwater's and a California law that took effect in January.

Ordinances like these are scarce in Pinellas County.

"We have a countywide noise ordinance, but they're set by EPA standards," County Administrator Fred Marquis said. "The problem is that with all of the federal and state standards, the sound has to be measured, and you can't do that very easily with a moving vehicle."

Belleair Beach Police Chief Frank Anderson said, "These people don't seem to realize that the volume they love so much bothers some people. They either don't think about that or they don't care. I think it's the latter."