An ongoing spat between Bob’s Boathouse and nearby neighborhoods over the restaurant’s noise has spurred the Sarasota County Commission to consider modifying its noise ordinances countywide.
The move, however, has some restaurant and bar owners claiming it will unfairly punish establishments that have been playing by the rules, and it will burden them with new subjectively enforced regulations.
Residents in neighborhoods near Bob’s Boathouse, as well as residents living near Walt’s Fish Market, which has an outdoor “chickee hut” featuring live music, claim the existing rules make life unlivable near these noise-emitting sites. According to a public records search, at least 15 residents from neighborhoods near Bob’s Boathouse have emailed commissioners requesting a change in the county noise ordinances.
The problem with current noise measurement standards in the case of Bob’s Boathouse, commissioners explain, is that the restaurant sits on a waterway across from private residences. So, although noise levels at the property boundaries may technically be within limits, the amount of noise echoed across the water and subsequently received by private residences exceeds reasonable expectations.
“The existing ordinance measures noise at the emitting property,” County Commissioner Nora Patterson said. “But Bob’s Boathouse is so close to the water, you can’t get a measurement at the property line unless you can walk on water.”
On Jan. 14, the County Commission asked staff to research changing the noise ordinance to lower the threshold for an infraction by five decibels and adjust the times when indoor and outdoor live entertainment are allowed. Limits on decibel levels and live entertainment hours vary by a property’s zoning.
The noise ordinance amendment would also change the way the county measures noise. Enforcement officials will have the discretion, under certain circumstances, to measure noise from the property receiving the noise rather than the property emitting it.
The existing noise ordinances, last amended in 2004, are set to expire in November, which opens the possibility of changing the law.
The commission’s move to alter the noise ordinances is welcomed by homeowners living near restaurants such as Bob’s and Walt’s, which are examples of isolated noise-emitting establishments near residential areas.
Some area restaurant and bar owners, however, claim the conflicts are due to improper zoning decisions, not failures in the existing sound ordinances. Changing the noise ordinances, they claim, will ultimately affect their businesses.
“We’re making the law harder because one guy made a mistake,” said Rami Nehme, owner of Blasé Café in the Siesta Key Village. “Bob’s Boathouse shouldn’t be everybody else’s problem.”
The 2004 amendment to the noise ordinance called for measuring sound at the real property line of the generating property, except for industrial uses, which may also be measured from the receiving residential property line of a complainant.
The Bob’s Boathouse property is zoned as a commercial property, requiring noise measurements to be taken at the property line under the current rules.
“They’re trying to deal with a zoning mistake by adjusting the noise ordinances,” Nehme said. “We need to look at how we zone areas and not just adjust the noise ordinances.”
Siesta Key Village restaurant and bar owners are concerned that enforcement officials will not be able to distinguish what percentage of total noise received at a residence is coming from a particular establishment when there are multiple bars and restaurants, as well as heavy pedestrian traffic, in the vicinity.
“You measure whatever is appropriate, as long as you can prove where the sound is coming from,” County Commissioner Nora Patterson said, adding: “A lot of communities measure at the receiving site. But that way is very hard to enforce; it’s hard to prove the origin of noise.”
County code enforcement staff, however, insist that the technology exists to precisely identify and isolate different sources of sound at a receiving location — allowing officials to accurately determine if an establishment is in violation, even if a bar next door is in compliance with the law.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Nehme said. “It’s a broken law from the beginning to the ending. And they’re just putting duct tape on it.”
According to county documents, the Sheriff’s Office and County Code Enforcement Office both endorse the proposed changes, agreeing “the additional measures will assist in future control of sound within the county without any added burden on existing personnel.”
Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected]