Residents and bar owners along the drinking strip of South Howard Avenue, or SoHo, in Tampa's Hyde Park are at it again over noise limits. This is a hot-button issue that has bubbled for years, and it involves a complex interplay of privacy and property rights. The only things missing from this heated debate are some straight talk and a better grip of history.
The bar owners brought this problem on themselves. The bands, DJs, outdoor televisions and speakers that blare from SoHo patios bounce noise all over the neighborhood. That's in addition to the parking lots that double as outdoor spaces for the late-night drinking crowds. The city's noise limit, at 55 decibels, may be unreasonably low, given the background noise along busy Howard that contributes to the volume. But the noise pollution from the bars is still a nuisance. And while it may be limited now to a few bad actors, it has taken way too long for bar owners to show good faith and for the city to regain control.
Several speakers at a Tampa City Council meeting on the issue, which attracted bar owners and their employees, blamed nearby residents for wanting it both ways — enjoying the convenience of walking to a bar and the high property values that come from owning in a mixed-use district, yet complaining about the very business activity that makes the neighborhood attractive. Some also said the city should make SoHo an entertainment district, like Ybor City and Channelside, to reflect its partying draw.
But South Howard didn't start out like it has emerged today. It was an intensely residential area with neighborhood restaurants. Its bars were indoor — not patio attractions designed to attract passing traffic. The business strip was built around, and built to serve, the existing homes and apartments. It was inevitable, as property values took off, that more bars would move in. That's the private market, which is fine. But the city did a terrible job of keeping up with traffic, pedestrian safety and others issues that came to affect the neighborhood. Unlike Ybor and Channelside, residents were already here; the bars came and changed the character of the neighborhood. Residents who cannot now fall asleep because of the noise did not introduce the problem.
SoHo is a lively draw and a valuable mixed-use district. Its businesses bring energy, jobs and income to the city, and nearby homes give the district a feel-good charm that fosters a sense of safety and place. The two sides complement each other, but the balance has tilted toward the bars at the residents' expense. The council will hold a workshop on the issue Thursday, giving bar owners and residents another chance to find common ground. They should realize an attractive neighborhood that is built on its surroundings, not sound, is more sustainable as a destination for visitors and residents alike.