When Brad Bailey visited Fort Lauderdale, he noticed an audible surprise. As he strolled the boardwalk with his two children, passing the myriad of bars and restaurants, the music from each establishment was confined to the walls within each particular storefront.
“I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what they’re doing (differently) down here?’” he said. Bailey, Sarasota County zoning administrator, wasn’t in South Florida for work, but his thought shows how much the noise issue in Siesta Key Village has impeded the minds of those involved.
The current sound regulations affecting Siesta Village are not actually part of a zoning ordinance, said Bailey. They are part of an environmental ordinance that includes considerations for the whir of street sweepers, din of mosquito fogging and ringing of church bells — all of which are exempt from restrictions.
In Sarasota County, commercial property owners must keep sounds of any kind at or below 75 decibels when measured from the real property line between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sound can’t exceed 70 decibels for the rest of the day unless coming from an enclosed building, which is capped at 75, according to documents sent by Code Enforcement Officer John Lally.
However, in Siesta Key Village there are four establishments that have special exceptions to these regulations. Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, the Hub Baja Grill, Captain Curt’s Oyster Bar and Siesta Key Oyster Bar all have special exceptions, which allow for varying levels of regulatory easement. These exceptions take nearly six months to acquire and require a neighborhood workshop and two public hearings.
If there is probable cause to believe a restaurant or bar has violated a noise ordinance, it receives a warning and has 15 minutes to comply, with the exception of car noises, which can be resolved within two days.
Fines of up to $500 and jail time of up to 60 days are issued if the noise doesn’t stop or there’s another infraction within 90 days. Fines for infractions are the same in the city of Indian Rocks Beach, one of the townships county commissioners have looked to for possible ordinance amendments.
One such change would be the inclusion of entertainment permits, which would be required by commercial property owners who want to host live music. Indian Rocks Beach requires bars or restaurants to apply for a permit, then renew annually. If the permit were issued, a violation of the town’s noise ordinance — that sets limits at 60 to 66 decibels — would result in the city stripping the establishment of the permit.
If the zoning ordinance is amended and entertainment permits are added to Sarasota County guidelines, another full-time staffer could be required for processing permits, which would cost roughly $49,000, according to a report presented to county commissioners in May.
County Administrator Randall Reid is submitting a budget option for an additional code shift officer to work odd hours for enforcement, according to an email message from Reid. The same report estimated the cost of a full-time code enforcement officer to be $44,000.
Code-enforcement officers have decibel meters that are kept under lock and key to protect their integrity for court evidence. However, bouncers at many of the Village bars, like the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, have phone applications that do the same thing.
Usually, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is the first to get notified about the noise.
“It’s a joint effort,” Bailey said.
Officers will usually look for a disturbing the peace charge when responding to noise complaints instead of a code violation, Bailey explained. But, after receiving an officer’s report that usually contains sound readings, the county can take the violation to a special issue magistrate court.
Sarasota County commissioners will determine the next move in the noise debacle at an unknown date.
“It could be in two days, two weeks or two months,” Bailey said.
Sound intensity is measured in decibels. Here are some ordinary — and not-so-ordinary — sounds and their decibel level to clarify what code-enforcement officers measure when busting sound scofflaws.
140 decibels — aircraft carrier deck
80 decibels — garbage disposal
70 decibels — vacuum cleaner
10 decibels — labored breathing
(Levels in bold are roughly equivalent to current zoning ordinance restrictions.)
Click here to view a Siesta Key zoning code pdf and a Indian Rocks Beach zoning code pdf.