Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, February 21, 2014
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Meeting Tues. on city's noise rules

Key West, the small island where voices and amplified music can carry far beyond their intended audience, will consider proposed changes to the city's noise ordinance at a special meeting Tuesday.

City commissioners will devote the time at Old City Hall solely to the noise-level debate, which includes businesses crying foul over their bread-and-butter music offerings and locals calling it a health hazard.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at 510 Greene St.

One of those locals, Rebecca Black, who bought an Old Town home in 1999, is counting on the city to install decibel level limits to end what she describes as years of torment by Duval Street bar music.

"I'm done with arguing; I want something to be done," Black said Wednesday. "For my emotional well-being, I've given up fighting. I don't want to end up in dePoo [hospital]."

Black isn't joking around. She has visited a doctor for help with an inability to sleep due to the noise she says shakes her floors and windows. She works full time and has regularly voiced concerns about the noise, phoning the police at 2 a.m. when she has to be at work some six hours later.

Ear plugs, a noise machine -- Black has exhausted modern-day methods of blocking out the music for some shut-eye or a peaceful Sunday morning spent in her yard. She even bought a decibel reader to measure the sound levels, but says the number doesn't always tell the whole story about the disruption and wear and tear on her nerves.

"It's affecting people's ways of life," Black said.

She estimates she has made hundreds of complaints to police, city commissioners and bar owners over the years.

Discussion of the changes have been postponed twice by the commission, both times in January. The ordinance's sponsor, City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, finally asked commissioners to set a special meeting for the divisive topic that has pitted some Duval Street hotspots against their neighbors.

Maureen Johnson, general manager of Willie T's Restaurant and Bar, 525, Duval St., is urging commissioners to vote against the proposed noise ordinance changes, calling it unfair.

For starters, Johnson said, the new rules would allow a police officer or code investigator to use their ears as a measuring tool, rather than a decibel reader.

Sound measurements would be allowed to start at the property line of a business and the window of violation could last 10 to 20 seconds.

"That could be a cheer for a winning team, applause or a crying baby," Johnson wrote in a lengthy letter to the city.

"More unfairness will also follow because enforcement officials will have newer, wider and subjective discretion regarding enforcement, and can theoretically cherry-pick which venues they choose to enforce the new law upon," Johnson wrote.

The proposed changes, detailed in a 22-page document linked to the meeting's agenda, include:

• Allowing an officer or inspector to measure sound with his ears, rather than a decibel reader as present-day law requires.

• Allowing measurement to take place at the property line of a business or home, rather than 100 feet from the line.

• Ending an exception for churches, religious services or observances, in response to a neighborhood complaint about the amplified music and preaching that goes on during the week at Church of God of Prophecy, 815 Elizabeth St. Church bells and chimes would remain exempt from city noise rules, though.

• Allowing a measurement of 10 to 20 seconds in length, rather than 30 seconds to five minutes.

In the city's commercial district, centered around Duval Street, the proposed limit for decibel levels is between 75-77 from 4 p.m. to 2:59 a.m., and between 65 and 75 decibels between 3 a.m. and 3:59 p.m.

A cop or city inspector may issue a warning to an offending business or person.

"There shall be no more than a total of one warning issued during any 12-month period," the proposed changes read.

Penalties imposed could range from fines up to $500 and administrative fees or up to 60 days in jail, the same drill for violation of other city ordinances, such as the open container law.

But one local inn says the music is affecting its business negatively.

The Curry Mansion Inn's guests have complained openly on online forums such as Trip Advisor and Expedia, said owner Edith Amsterdam in a letter to city leaders last month asking for them to look into the activity at two Duval Street bars.

Attached to the letter are seven anonymous comments about the inn that went up online in 2013, warning future guests that it can be a "noisy" place to stay due to 3 a.m. racket coming from Duval.

"If you're a light sleeper, bring earplugs and stay here anyway!" one reviewer posted.

Johnson says the businesses and locals can work out any problems without the city installing new laws. But those counting on new, stricter noise rules say the city needs to stamp some limits on noise into the lawbooks.

"All we are asking for is a reasonable volume limits to be enforced again," wrote J.T. Thompson, the founder of the "One Human Family" campaign that the city has adopted as a motto.

Thompson is also an Old Town resident who describes local bars as "polluting" the neighborhood with loud music.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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