Florida Keys News
Monday, January 20, 2014
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City's noise ordinance debate is getting louder

Odds are no new noise ordinance allowing stricter rules about Key West music is going to pass the City Commission quietly.

Commissioners have received emailed letters from locals decrying the fact that no local law regulates the amplified music from a church, along with one opposing view that promises the proposal will wipe out many businesses along Duval Street.

Maureen Johnson, general manager at Willie T's Restaurant and Bar, 525 Duval St., wants city leaders to kill the measure, sponsored by City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, which proposes new decibel level limits and would also include churches for the first time.

"If this noise ordinance is passed, perhaps an investigation into the real underlying reason for such changes to the existing code should be forwarded to Florida's Attorney General for investigative hearings and possible action," wrote Johnson in a Jan. 7 email attached to Wednesday's agenda.

"Perhaps a civil class action would also become necessary," Johnson wrote.

Commissioners will hold the first of two required readings of the proposed noise ordinance at their 6 p.m. Wednesday meeting at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

The item came up at the panel's last meeting, but with Commissioners Clayton Lopez and Billy Wardlow both absent due to family medical matters, the proposal was postponed until Wednesday.

In order to pass into law, a proposed resolution must receive two 'yes' votes from the commission at two separate meetings.

This proposed revision to what constitutes a noise violation in Key West has roots in a neighborhood dispute over a church's weekly services, which residents along Galveston Lane say is steadily ruining their quality of life.

When about 14 locals met with a code enforcement officer, they learned that city law doesn't register churches as a possible offender to the noise regulations.

Churches are the only institution exempt from the city's noise ordinance, with locals saying it was meant to allow church bells.

"We love church bells," wrote John Martini, a sculptor who lives in a compound he restored on Galveston Lane.

"It is miserable to be there when the church is holding services with a completely unnecessarily loud volume of sound," wrote Rita Troxel, a 30-year resident of Key West who now lives in Sugarloaf.

But she visits her pals on Galveston Lane and is up in arms over the Church of God and Prophecy's amplified music and preaching.

The church, 815 Elizabeth St., sits in front of Galveston Lane.

"The amplified music reaches all the way to Butler Park and my section of William Street," wrote Dianne Zolotow to the commissioners. "Thank you for helping us preserve the quiet of our little neighborhood."

Martini spoke in favor of the new noise rules at the commission's last meeting in December, saying the stress of the church's amplified sounds are harming his health.

Martini said he was told by a code enforcement officer the congregation could do what they want.

Reached by The Citizen Sunday night, Pastor Jean Jean, who leads the church, said he is willing to work with the neighbors about noise problems.

"I want to do what I can," he said.

The church has never been cited by the city, but current law exempts churches from the noise restrictions.

"It's unfortunate that we have to pass laws to make sure people are respectful of others but that's the world and the city we live in today," wrote Janet Hinkle to the city clerk, in support of Weekley's ordinance.

The noise from the church is heard Sunday mornings and evenings between 7 and 9:30 p.m., said Martini, in his letter to the commission. There are Monday and Tuesday evening services and one on Wednesday mornings, along with "surprise" events, he said.

"We suffer the lack of peace," Martini wrote, adding that he has invested a large amount of money into restoring his compound. Two tenants have moved out due to the noise, he said, while prospective buyers dropped the idea when they realized the "untenable situation" caused by the church.

But businesses have also invested "huge funding and people's livelihoods" into building financial successes, said Johnson, of Willie T's.

Johnson says flaws to the proposed noise ordinance revision include the 3 a.m. to 3:59 p.m. restriction of noise to 65 decibels in the commercial district and the plan to allow a code enforcement officer or a cop to measure the level from the property line.

A human ear is allowed as a measuring tool under the proposal. Also, an officer may determine whether a violation is occurring by using a time frame of between 10 to 20 seconds rather than the current 30 second to 5 minute sampling.

Courts have consistently ruled that "while governments have a legitimate interest in restricting excessive noise, the law must be narrowly tailored to comport with the First Amendment," Johnson wrote.

"Let's find new ways by working together as a community to regulate our noise levels on Duval Street," she wrote.

Among the 16 letters of support for Weekley's proposed ordinance are emails from art director J.T. Thompson and nonprofit board leader Rosi Ware.

"If I wanted to hear Cowboy Bill's music acts all night long every night I'd go there!" Thompson wrote, saying the music from the Duval Street bar disturbs his home life even though the club is more than one block away.

"No business needs that much volume," Thompson wrote.

As of Friday, Johnson's email was the only opposition letter filed with the agenda on legistar.com

The others said time is up for overpowering music and other loud noises creeping into Old Town homes.

"My wife and I live on Fleming Street so I was unaware there are any noise ordinances in Key West," wrote Lincoln Perry in a Jan. 5 email. to the city clerk.

Drunks screaming, leaf blowers, Duval Street music, motorcycle revving and fire engines continue to split the air in Key West, said Perry.

"I was born in New York City and it is generally MUCH quieter than Key West," Perry wrote. "Religion is not a blank check for horrible, aggressive, un-neighborly behavior."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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