By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PONCE INLET - Proposed changes to the town's controversial noise ordinance have been muted - for now.
The Town Council voted unanimously to table a new set of amendments to the noise ordinance passed in January that are designed to make it more business friendly.
By tabling the ordinance, future discussion and action on the matter will be postponed until a later date.
Officials and staff said they would hold off on acting on the changes until the Florida Supreme Court reviews a case from the 2nd District Court of Appeal that ruled a state law restricting how loud a motorist can play audio from a car stereo was unconstitutional.
Town Attorney Cliff Shepard said the tweaks to the current noise ordinance, originally approved in January, were designed to work with whatever the Florida Supreme Court decides.
But he acknowledged the tweaked ordinance has less teeth.
"It has been substantially watered down to try to make sure you account for every possibility," Mr. Shepard said. "Therefore, it may not make everyone happy at the end of the day ... it's like a pretty thin broth."
The noise ordinance sparked controversy because it contained a provision regarding "plainly audible sound" allowing a police officer to use his or her discretion in determining if a noise violation has occurred without requiring the use of a sound meter.
Plainly audible sound is defined as "any sound for which the information content of that sound is communicated to the listener," which town staff interprets as hearing song lyrics or bass.
But in the proposed revision of the ordinance, the phrase "plainly audible" does not appear even once; it is abandoned in favor of the more content-neutral "loud or raucous sound."
It also no longer distinguishes between entertainment and non-entertainment uses. One section that says permits can be granted "for the purpose of entertainment" was changed to read "functions taking place on public property."
A memo from the law firm representing the town states these changes were made to avoid a free speech challenge.
Additional measures in the ordinance were introduced at the insistence of local business owners with live music, who feared subjective enforcement of the law.
If the new ordinance passes, police would be required to give a verbal warning requesting the noise level complies with the ordinance. If subsequent violations occur, then police may issue a written warning.
It also sets additional guidelines for police when determining whether a violation has occurred. It states that a sound meter should be used to measure sound at the property line from which sound is coming from.
If a sound meter cannot be used, police must measure the sound from a minimum distance of 200 feet from the property line. Current regulations set the minimum at 100 feet.
Police Chief Wayne Lurcock told officials he is comfortable with enforcing the noise ordinance based on the current or the revised regulations.
"As of right now I see workability with what currently exists or with (the revised ordinance)," he said. "We're going to do it one way or the other."
The chief said the police department receives the most noise complaints during the cooler weather months, when more people have their windows open. He added there have been no noise complaints within the last 30 days and two complaints within the last 45 days.
The noise ordinance approved in January sparked numerous concerns from owners of restaurants with live music and supporters of the restaurants, especially when changes were made at first reading reducing current maximum decibel standards and giving no exceptions for extended hours of operation during special events, except for New Year's Eve.
As a result of the public outcry, councilors abandoned those changes when they adopted the ordinance on second reading, but kept the "plainly audible" provision. At the time, business owners were pleased with the outcome but feared subjective enforcement.
But some are happy with the ordinance the way it is.
One citizen, Philip Townley, spoke before the Town Council on the proposed noise ordinance at a recent meeting, voicing his opposition to the changes because he and his neighbors feel the ordinance currently on the books provides "reasonable protection."
That protection, he believes, would be reduced to "a small shell" if councilors were to adopt the standards of the new noise ordinance.
"I have no neighbors who are happy with the situation as it is proposed," he said. "There have been problems in the past (with noise) despite what the bar owners claim."