The city of Flagler Beach is trying to be tougher on restaurants that break the city’s noise ordinances, following a string of complaints that businesses are loud and police unresponsive.
The Flagler Beach City Commission held a workshop Thursday to discuss the problem, which has arisen frequently in the past but may become more prevalent in the future as more businesses install decks and apply for outdoor entertainment permits.
After a lengthy discussion, the commission decided to draft a revised version of its current noise ordinance, which will be voted on in January.
The city requires that noise be kept at or below 70 decibels on commercial properties and at or below 60 decibels on residential properties. Currently, a restaurant in violation is subject to a five-step system of repercussions for each violation within 90 days of the first, ranging from warnings to small fines.
“The way things are now, it’s five strikes and you’re out,” said Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher. “Obviously, if you get through five steps, you’re really not trying too terribly hard to change anything.”
The revised ordinance would change the city’s penalty policy to make it more forceful. It would extend the period of time a violation acts against a business's record from its current 90 days to 180 days.
The revised ordinance would also streamline the ordinance system into a tougher, three-strike system.
If the new ordinance were adopted, and establishment found to be in violation of the noise code would first be given a verbal warning.
The second strike would be a fine. The commission tentatively set that fee at $500, but the city attorney will check whether that amount is allowed, said Jane Mealy, chairwoman of the commission. If the fine is not $500, the fine will be the maximum allowed, she said.
A third strike within 180 days of the first would result in a business's loss of its outdoor entertainment permit.
Under these new guidelines, establishments that lose their permits would have the ability to reapply for their permits after three months, but they would be required to come before the commission to present an action plan for keeping noise down.
The revised ordinance will also eliminate languge that requires a person who calls the police to complain about noise violations to complete a sworn affidavit before an establishment could be charged.
Often, people complaining about noise violations are unwilling to comply to this because noise complaints often come at late hours, said Sgt. Bill Shamp, of the Flagler Beach Police Department.
About one in five noise complaints the police receive is actually determined to be a violation, Shamp said.
The rewritten ordinance will be ready for vote in January. Until then, the commission asked nearby restaurants to be mindful of noise levels and for police officers to be more diligent when responding to noise ordinance calls.
Although noise from restaurants and bars that host outdoor entertainment is an issue that arises often in Flagler Beach, commissioners said an increased interest in outdoor decks and outdoor entertainment permits could indicate a trend for Flagler Beach restaurants.
Currently, seven establishments in the city have outdoor entertainment permits. Some of them, like the Golden Lion Café, have never had a complaint lodged against them.
Others, like Hurricane Patty’s, were a source of many residents’ complaints.
And the commission only anticipates more permit requests in the future. Two outdoor entertainment permit requests will come before the commission at its next meeting, Nov. 8.
Bruce Campbell, city manager for Flagler Beach, suggested that new permit applications require an included action plan for keeping noise down, as develoed by an approved sound engineer. This could stop the problem before it stops, he said.
But a handful of business owners spoke during public comment, asking that those who own restaurants and bars not be penalized if they hadn’t yet committed a violation.
And Rich Smith, a property owner who once spent $45,000 at the direction of a sound engineer in attempt to fix noise problems he had in association with a building that housed a dance studio.
Eventually, Smith said, he went to RadioShack and bought a wall-mount system that warned when noise was too high. This cost just $240 and solved his problems. Sound engineers are not the only way to remedy noise problems, he said.
Citizens spoke one after another during public comment, a mixture between businesses owners asking that their livelihoods be maintained and residents frustrated with the constant sound of nearby businesses hosting outdoor music.
The overall attitude of the commission was that these restaurants and bars, while important to the city’s economy, needed to be sure to act as good neighbors to other residents so commercial and residential properties can coexist.
“We need to start taking this more seriously,” said Commissioner Marshall Shupe. “We need businesses and residents to be able to work together.”
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