HIGH SPRINGS – Excessive noise became a disturbance at the High Springs City Commission meeting Thursday.
Ironically, it was discussion of the city’s current noise ordinance that aroused fierce opinions among attendees. Commissioner Eric May said the ordinance is unclear and needs to be rethought.
“I believe we have a very archaic noise ordinance that is difficult for our staff to enforce,” he said.
The current ordinance, part of the land development code, requires enforcements on noise violations after 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Receiving a permit from the city allows events to be exempt from the ordinance.
May said he brought the issue to the commission because he has heard citizens’ complaints. He called for clear expectations to be put into place.
Thomas DePeter, city attorney, agreed with May, explaining that certain language in the ordinance is confusing.
“If you hear the noise, then they seem to be violating the regulation,” he said. “But it’s not just hearing the noise, it has to actually be a noise disturbance.”
Bob Bentz, owner of local restaurant Great Outdoors, said the city needs to set acceptable decibel levels.
Since a crucial part of his business is the live musical performances that take place on the patio of the restaurant, he bought a decibel meter. However, he does not know what the appropriate thresholds are.
“We don’t want to be bad neighbors to the community,” he said. “If they don’t tell us, we don’t know it.”
Bentz said a possible solution would be for commissioners to go down to the restaurant with him, stand in the street and determine an acceptable noise level with a decibel meter.
May said the important thing is agreeing upon what is tolerable in the community’s eyes.
“People are not going to be annoyed and businesses are not going to be unfairly harassed or anything like that, because there are set standards,” he said. “You know what to expect.”
DePeter said the ordinance is typically not enforced unless there’s a complaint. May agreed, calling the enforcement “probably close to zero.”
“We just need to get it done,” he said. “We want to give our officers and our code officers the actual tools to enforce the law.”
Bob Barnas, a citizen and city commission candidate, said if the police are not allowed to force people to unplug offending speakers, the officers cannot do anything about the problem. He suggested adding a fine, saying that it “gives the officers the teeth to deal with those issues.”
May disagreed, saying people will simply take the fine into account when planning for an event. They will factor in the cost and take that as permission to ignore appropriate noise levels.
“Say there’s a big event with a big concert and you go hit them with a citation,” he said. “That’s just the cost of doing business. They’ll just do it.”
Mayor Larry Travis said the problem could be easily fixed with a combination of citations and a three-strike system. On a third violation over any period of time, an individual’s event would be shut down.
He also asked for a police directive to instruct officers in proper enforcement of the ordinance and to encourage them to be proactive about implementation.
DePeter said he will make small changes in the language of the resolution. It will be discussed at an upcoming meeting to modify the land development ordinance.
Whatever the solution, local resident Leda Carrero said something must be done. She said she called the police last year about the permit for an event held at Catherine Taylor Park. She asked for the volume to be turned down and was told that nothing could be done.
“There have been occasions where there’s a permit giving for them to have a 10 hour event, and the volume is so loud that I cannot sit on my porch and talk to someone next to me,” she said. “That’s excessive. And it doesn’t seem right to me to call and say look, ‘I don’t want to put up with this for 10 hours,’ and hear ‘there’s nothing we can do.’”
Vice Mayor Byran Williams responded to her comment, telling her she should notify the event’s planner about any noise issues.
“Me myself, every time I do something in the park over there, I’m the noise monitor,” he said. “I walk around. You can shake your head if you want to. Just, if you’ve got a problem, call and say, ‘Turn it down. I asked you to turn it down.’”
Carrero said, “I did.”
May said a citizen calling an event’s planner about a noise disturbance is “part of the problem we’re trying to eliminate.”
“There’s automatically going to be animosity between the two,” he said. “You want to call a neutral party like the police.”
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