Tougher noise rules could lower the boom

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 27, 2006

TAMPA - The City Council on Thursday gave initial approval to changes to the noise ordinance that could mean jail time for repeat violators.

Under the new rule, those who exceed legal noise limits would receive a warning. If they break the rule again within the following year, they would receive a misdemeanor citation and could be fined up to $500, be jailed up to 60 days and/or get probation for six months. Measurements are taken outside businesses.

Some Ybor City business owners say the rule unfairly targets club owners, who made the entertainment district successful, and that measuring noise levels is an inexact science.

Cars driving down Seventh Avenue and noise coming from numerous establishments "make it virtually impossible to determine who's violating and who's not," said Jennifer D'Angelo, who works for Luke Lirot, an attorney hired by several Ybor club owners.

Eric Schiller, owner of Gaspar's Grotto, said he worries the ordinance will put club owners out of business. That will lead to the sale of real estate that will drive up land prices, "making it impossible for small retail to thrive."

"There are dozens of things that we need to do to improve business and living in general in Ybor," Schiller said. "This is not one of them."

But police Maj. George McNamara told council members the changes will help officers enforce the law.

Under the current noise ordinance, violators get a warning. If they break the rule again within 72 hours, the receive a citation and face a minimum fine of $250. That allows people to break the law every three days with few consequences.

The noise limit for most of the city from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. is 55 decibels for high sounds and 65 for bass sounds. In entertainment districts, such as Ybor City, the legal limit is 85 decibels for high noise and 87 for bass from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.

The level of normal conversation is 50 to 65 decibels, and lawn mowers generate 85 to 90 decibels, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The council voted 6-1 in favor of the proposed changes, with Rose Ferlita casting the lone dissenting vote.

"What we're doing here is leveling the playing field," said council member Shawn Harrison, noting that the change shouldn't cause anyone economic hardship. "Everyone's going to have to turn down the music."

The proposed ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing in two weeks.

Bars that break noise laws can have their wet zoning revoked. The council, though, plans to change wet zoning rules so that the designation can be suspended for 30 days for noise violations. They asked for that revision to protect property owners whose tenants violate the noise ordinance.

Janet Zink can be reached at 813 226-3401 or