The recently formed Downtown Dunedin Council of Restaurant, Bar and Club Owners want to know why it is taking so long to revise the city's noise ordinance, regulating use of live amplified music.
City commissioners asked the same question of staff Thursday night.
During the public comment portion of the March 20 City Commission meeting, John Lewis, owner and head chef of La Maison Gourmet, on Main Street, submitted a petition signed by owners of 18 restaurants and their 800 patrons. The petition asked commissioners to enact a moratorium on enforcement of the city's current ordinance until a compromise can be reached over its enforcement.
The ordinance, which among other things regulates amplified music, makes it too hard for downtown bars and restaurants to present music to their customers, the establishments' owners say.
During the moratorium, bar and restaurant owners would police the musical acts they present, Lewis pledged.
Downtown restaurant and pub owners say they are constantly harassed by just a hand full of residents who live adjacent to the commercial district and complain when hearing music at their homes, even in the early evening.
In response to such complaint the sheriff's deputies sometimes order the music silenced.
On the other side of the coin, some residents living within the downtown Community Redevelopment District say they need rest from music played so loud it sometimes shakes their windows and is played into the night.
City commissioners agreed Thursday it should not have taken as long as it has to come up with a way to enforce noise regulations agreeable to all sides in the dispute.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes said it is time to move the issue forward as quickly as possible. "I agree 18 months is a long time," she said, referring to the time the city has been grappling with complaints about the noise ordinance from business owners.
Commissioners asked staff to make a full report on the ordinance overhaul at their next meeting, on April 10.
Lewis, spokesman of the newly formed downtown hospitality industry group and a member of the city's noise task force, said nothing has changed in that year and a half.
Another task force member, Frank Baiamonte, owner of the Meranova Inn, said it has taken this long because interested parties on both side of the argument cannot reach a consensus.
The crux of the matter, Lewis explained, is that one person calling in a complaint to the Sheriff's Office as early as 9 p.m. can shut down a live musical performance. In his case the performers were playing soft jazz, not hard rock.
Lewis asked commissioners to impose the moratorium on enforcing the current noise ordinance. The existing law requires a reasonable person not to be bothered by the music at least 100 feet away from the establishment from which it originates.
In exchange, he promised, bar and restaurant owners would purchase decibel meters and police themselves to show they can be good neighbors.
This is the second peak tourist season that restaurant and bar owners have asked the City Commission for relief, Lewis has noted.
Lewis said the petition presented Thursday night also addresses several concerns about the proposed noise ordinance being drafted.
For example, a noise ordinance should address the special needs of the downtown business district. The proposed ordinance is written to encompass the entire city, he said.
A decibel level of 65, proposed by the city as a maximum, is much too low, he said. A group of people speaking can easily top that scale, he explained. A decibel level of 80 for amplified music, which should be measured at the source of the complaining person's property line, would be a lot fairer, he said.
Assistant City Manager Harry Gross has said the task force has been working to come up with a compromise solution.
Mayor Bob Hackworth said Thursday the City Commission definitely needs a complete update on the issue at its next meeting, so the next logical step in the process can be determined.
Any change in the ordinance would first be heard by the Local Planning Agency and then the City Commission, City Attorney John Hubbard has said.