As the City Commission wrapped up a discussion of the downtown noise ordinance Sept. 7, Mayor Shannon Snyder issued a stern warning to businesses that dared to violate the regulations.
“It’s real easy,” Snyder said. “If these guys aren’t going to comply, go get them in a room, and I’ll be more than happy to put it on the agenda to have liquor sales stop at 11 o’clock at night.”
Before that gauntlet was thrown down, the commission heard a presentation from the Sarasota Police Department. After a 90-day period during which the SPD focused on sound enforcement, Chief Bernadette DiPino suggested the end of the special sound detail, leaving noise regulations in the hands of regular patrol officers.
Residents and commissioners weren’t satisfied. The noise ordinance is constantly violated, they said. Police not only needed to continue to be vigilant with enforcement, but the consequences for violators needed to be steep.
Ambrish Piare is the owner of Ivory Lounge, one of three establishments city commissioners singled out as frequent violators of the noise ordinance. He says he’s not a defiant club owner thumbing his nose at the city, but someone looking for middle ground in an argument which so many are on the extremes.
He acknowledged a responsibility on his part to abide by the city’s laws. Despite the volume of complaints directed toward Ivory — including some made on days the nightclub is closed — Piare says they’ve received just one formal citation for noise violations. He’s flummoxed by the severity of the outcry from downtown residents and, now, from the commission.
“If there’s a sound violation, it needs to be immediately be followed up,” Piare said. “But, threatening with these extreme measures, I don’t see in any way how that helps.”
When talking to the commission last Tuesday, residents expressed weariness with dealing with what they consider to be an almost-constant violation throughout downtown on weekends. Seven speakers spoke on the topic, all upset by the noise. Some said the ordinance doesn’t go far enough, and that noise that doesn’t go over the decibel level outlined in the regulations can still be disturbing late at night.
Piare said he’s sympathetic to downtown residents upset by noise, but at the same time, people living downtown should be equally sympathetic to the needs of the businesses.
“(Downtown) has evolved, and it always had the intention to evolve, even when they purchased their buildings,” Piare said. “It’s evolving in a way where they don’t want it to go, which is understandable, but either we completely stop it or we try to make it work together.”
Although every person who spoke at the last commission meeting was for the stricter enforcement of noise regulations, Piare pointed out they were still just seven people. The problematic noise is, at least in part, a sign of these establishments’ popularity, and Piare wants the people who frequent bars and clubs downtown to make their voices heard just as loudly as anyone else’s.
“It’s time for the people who love downtown and want it to flourish to also speak on behalf of downtown,” Piare said. “Not to fight the residents who complain, but to work together.”
On the part of at least some downtown residents, Peter Fanning seemed to share some common ground with Piare. Fanning, president of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association, said he wanted to see the coexistence of residential units and nightlife, as well.
His request fell short of the most severe option the commission would later outline — he simply recommended the city add a permanent, dedicated sound-enforcement officer for downtown.
“The reason there was some improvement in compliance was because there was a consistent and fair process established by a dedicated enforcement group, establishing an expectation of enforcement,” Fanning said of the recent 90-day period when the SPD emphasized noise compliance.
Piare said he’s had fruitful conversations with the police department about working to cut down on noise issues. On Friday, he said, cops will take a baseline measurement, so Ivory management knows at what volume music should be set, and he mentioned a willingness to help fund a police officer to patrol the 1400 block of Main Street at night.
Although the rhetoric is stronger in the commission chambers, Piare said, it’s not as productive in developing a solution.
“I think, at this moment, it’s unfair. The picture that has been painted — we are solely to blame,” he said. “It’s really black and white, and these polarized discussions, they don’t help.”