Noise complaints may continue in downtown Sarasota, but at least the musicians are allowed to play.
The City Commission decided Tuesday evening to suspend enforcing the city's zoning code dealing with amplified sound; however, the noise ordinance—a separate law covering sound levels and hours—will still be enforced by police.
The response came after Michael Barfield, an American Civil Liberties Union member, requested Tuesday afternoon that the commission "direct staff to stop any efforts of that provision to avoid litigation" because he considered the provisions as "unconstitutional."
Hours later, the commission directed staff to halt the enforcement to the applause of a packed City Commission chambers at City Hall, most of whom were there for a hearing on the proposed Ringling Shopping Center Walmart.
The error in the zoning code was discovered in December while Commissioner Paul Caragiulo held community meetings on how to improve the sound/noise ordinance, which resulted in the idea of a special entertainment zone.
It turned out that outdoor amplified sound isn't allowed in the downtown core in outdoor areas of restaurants. No radios, no acoustic guitars plugged into amps and no microphones, but the bands played on anyway.
The city's downtown core sound ordinance regulates outdoor amplified sound (i.e. music) by banning it between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and between 11:59 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights and nights before a federal holiday. Mattison's City Grille, which leases space on a city-owned property on Lemon Avenue, is exempted.
When the band plays, The city's downtown core sound ordinance regulates outdoor amplified sound (i.e. music) by banning it between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and between 11:59 p.m. and 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights and nights before a federal holiday.
When the band plays, it has to be lower than 65 dBA, 70 dBC, and then it gets complicated when it deals with duration, proximity to residences and other measures.
Gretchen Schneider of the city's Department of Neighborhood Services sent a letter Feb. 8 to inform businesses of the city code, informing them that only non-amplified music is allowed and it would have to fall under the decibel guidelines.
Several musicians and music supporters turned out Tuesday evening thanking the commission for taking the first step toward making a common sense noise and music policy.
Suzette Jones, an economic development specialist said that an improved law "could be a stepping stone where it costs no money to attract more businesses, to attract more tax revenue and to help our neighbors to grow their businesses."
Twenty-five-year-old Christopher Wontoff, a DJ at Ivory Lounge, pleaded the commission to make City Hall more friendly to music. He said he had at least one instance where police requested that the music be turned down.
"If you would do that in Chicago, the DJ would walk out on you," he said.
Musician Twinkle told the commission that, "This town honestly could be one of the premier music towns on the planet, but we need support from our lawmakers as well."
A public hearing on the noise issue is set for March 4.