ISLAMORADA -- Concern-ed about going too far, the Village Council decided not to even take a final vote last week on a proposed noise ordinance that it supported unanimously in February.
The council instead will hold a workshop to discuss alternative approaches to ameliorating concerns about loud music at an upcoming workshop.
"We need to see if we can mediate this to see if we can come up with something workable," Councilman Mike Forster said at the March 28 Village Council meeting.
Forster called the noise ordinance that the council passed preliminarily on Feb. 14 a "knee-jerk reaction." The ordinance was largely driven by complaints about loud bands playing late at the Smuggler's Cove bar on Windley Key, which sits within earshot of the Venetian Shores neighborhood.
The law would have capped daytime decibel levels in the village at 80, approximately the volume of a home garbage disposal. Nighttime limits, which would have begun at 10 o'clock on weekdays and 11 o'clock on weekends, would have been 60 decibels, or about as loud as a typical conversation.
Decibel levels would have been measured from the property of the person complaining about the noise, not from its source.
The ordinance would have replaced the village's existing law, which measures a noise disturbance "by ordinary, auditory, senses of a reasonable person with ordinary sensibilities." Local law enforcement has found that standard difficult to enforce.
Council members expressed uneasiness even while passing the tougher ordinance on the first of two planned readings last month. Negative reactions from bar owners in its wake may well have played a part in their reconsideration.
Speaking at the March 28 meeting, Hog Heaven Managing Director Doug Young said he couldn't live with a 60-decibel limit.
"We'll lose our revenue, but you'll lose your tax," he said.
Seventy-five decibels, Young said, could possibly be a reasonable limit, but even that should be considered with the assistance of experts.
But speakers at the meeting weren't of one mind. Michael Fink, who lives on Gimpy Gulch, immediately north of Founders Park, complained about the current law, which provides noise ordinance exemptions to events at the park. Fink also said that he knows of no evidence that quieter music leads to less revenue for music venues.
Forster implored bar owners and managers to participate in the upcoming workshop.
In other action, the council unanimously approved a lease agreement turning over operation of the Green Turtle Hammock Park on Upper Matecumbe Key to Green Turtle Island School, a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Jacoby Group. Green Turtle Island plans a marine research facility at the park and will offer public lectures as well as marine programs for local schools.
Under the lease, Green Turtle Island gets control of the property for two years, free of charge. In addition, the village will have to shoulder insurance costs, estimated at $36,000 per year. However, Green Turtle Island does plan extensive rehabilitation of the property, including major upgrades to its main waterfront home, smaller upland cottage and boat basin.
Construction must start within 90 days, according to the contract.
"It's going to be great," Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn said.
Also on March 28, the council approved a program that will assist the owners of deed-restricted affordable homes with their sewer hookups. Those owners are now eligible for up to $3,000 to offset the cost of their lateral hookups.