Longboat Key Town Commissioner Ed Zunz walked out onto the public dock over looking Jewfish Key Sunday, and noticed something strange: There were a dozens of vessels, but not the usual booming noise from stereos that has echoed throughout Longbeach Village over the last several months.
“This last weekend — to us — it seemed like it was a little bit better,” said Pat Zunz, a former town commissioner who has lived in the Village for decades. “There were a lot of boats, but it definitely was quiet.”
The Zunz’s have a party originally planned for Coquina Beach, called “Floatopia,” to thank for an uptick in enforcement from the Longboat Key Police Department and other agencies. Though the group that had been incorrectly reported as planning a massive gathering on Anna Maria Island cancelled the party, Key police were out and visible.
“I increased patrols out there this weekend and it did seem to make some impact,” said Police Chief Pete Cumming. “We were more visible and just kept a lid on things.”
But longterm reprieve may come in two forms for Village residents seeking relief from noise associated with boats anchored around Jewfish Key.
Cumming said he’s going to increase the amount of patrol time to be similar to last weekend, and Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale has formally asked for State Attorney General Pam Bondi for an opinion on whether Longboat police can cite boaters for violating potential new noise regulations.
‘Almost like abuse’
Jewfish Key has long been a popular spot for vessels to meet up, drop anchor and party. That’s largely due to the roughly 126,000-square-yard sandbar that flanks the northwest end of the island, and easy access from Longboat Pass and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Village resident Ann Roth said the noise is most extreme from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the weekends, making it unbearable to stand on her porch during those hours. It becomes difficult to hold a conversation without closing the doors and windows in her home — and it only gets worse throughout the day.
“The volume goes up and up and up as the day goes on,” Roth said. “It’s always been party place and I want people to have a good time, but this is almost like abuse.”
And parties near the island can turn violent.
On April 24, LBKP Officer Ed Kolodzieki responded to the report of a fight on the sandbar in which two men began punching each other over comments made about a woman with the group. The aggressor ran onto the island and Kolodzieki couldn’t find him. Three weeks earlier, a football game allegedly got too rough and ended with a 41-year-old man with a swollen face and bloody lips.
“It’s always been party place and I want people to have a good time, but this is almost like abuse.” — Ann Roth, Longbeach Village
“Some of us have had to call every week to complain” said Pat Zunz.
Further frustrating Zunz and fellow Villagers, after the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office took over island dispatch services, they say calls for service about issues on Jewfish Key are regularly met with confusion.
“They once asked for a cross street.” Roth said.
Town forges ahead with changes
Cumming said he plans to lighten water patrols during the weekdays to provide more enforcement during the weekend.
Currently, marine officers work the two current vessels from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. But due to regular maintenance, they may spend nine hours on the water.
Now, they plan to work from 9 a.m. to sunset on the weekends, with that entire roughly 11-hour span spent on the water.
“Right now, we are primarily out there giving warnings and looking for compliance and not issuing citations,” Cumming said.
From a legal standpoint, the complexity of enforcement is two-fold: State legislation has prevented municipalities from regulating noise from vessels, and established the entire bounds of the Intracoastal Waterway as state jurisdiction.
But, Mooney-Portale contends the noise described in state laws only apply to those from engines and other operational sounds.
“Courts have repeatedly held regulations of nuisance sound as an inherent authority of local governments so long as there are no constitutional violations in the drafting or application of the regulation,” she wrote in the May 3 memo to Bondi.
In March, town commissioners asked staff to explore an ordinance that cites specific decibel levels for violations. Currently, the Key’s municipal code is more subjective, ruling noise that’s “plainly audible, and annoyance and a disturbance” as illegal, Mooney-Portale said.
“Before we do it, we just want to make sure we have a a legal opinion from a neutral third party who can weigh in on the enforceability,” Mooney-Portale said.
While she’s confident the current ordinance — and one that would establish a decibel threshold for violations — is legally enforceable, an opinion from Bondi’s office in favor of he town’s authority would serve as legal ammunition if anyone chose to challenge the law.
After receiving an opinion from the Attorney General’s office, town staff will then ask commissioners to spend as much $75,000 for a consultant to establish decibel levels, and equipment for officers to measure those proposed levels during enforcement.
“All of that will be a significant investment on the town’s part,” Mooney-Portale said.