An agenda item on the Dec. 13 Public Services and Infrastructure Committee was scheduled to focus on the sidewalk cafe ordinance, but all anyone could talk about was the growing noise problem in downtown St. Petersburg.
For the last several council meetings an increasing number of downtown residents have spoken up during the public forum about the disrupting downtown noise.
Hugh Tulloch, president of the Downtown Residents Civic Association, said most downtown sidewalk cafes are in compliance with city codes except for amplified noise
"I’m a huge fan of sidewalk cafes," said president of the Downtown Residents Civic Association Hugh Tulloch. "I moved here in 1995 and went downtown one night, we couldn’t find anyone with a light on. But, what we'd want to do is put a few reasonable restrictions on them."
The city, which has seen a renaissance of its downtown, is trying to find the right balancing act to maintain a vibrant growing downtown nightlife while still respecting its thousands of downtown residents.
Outdoor amplified noise with sidewalks cafes is only part of the problem, residents say. The bigger issue is noise from downtown clubs.
Robert Rowan who said he lives at the McNulty Lofts told the committee Thursday he can't leave his windows open at night.
"The residents of downtown need help," Rowan said. "Late at night we are having this great loud noise and it gets louder."
Council member Karl Nurse said sidewalk cafes, downtown residents and the downtown bars can find a happy medium. The city, he said, can balance all issues to cultivate a thriving downtown.
"We don’t want to overregulate something that is successful," said council member Jim Kennedy. "We need to get some input from businesses that actually operate the sidewalks cafes."
The sidewalk cafe ordinance only deals with bars and restaurants that use the public right-of-way, not all business with outdoor spaces. For example, Tulloch and other downtown residents continue to point toward_Vue 19 and Push Ultra Lounge as places that constantly push and go past the limits of the city's noise ordinance.
Rowan said the music booms out of Vue 19 and Push to the point where he has had to call the police.
Committee members voted Thursday to hold two public forums within the first 90 days of 2013 to get public input from business owners and downtown residents on downtown noise.
Phil Lazzara, of the city's economic development department, said other possible regulations for sidewalk cafes include:
- Distinguish cafes within zoning districts
- Regulate if they could be near residential properties
- Regulate outdoor amplified noise
- Creating standards for shade structure size
- Sitting vs. standing regulations for sidewalk cafes
- Restricting sidewalk cafe operating hours
According to the city, there are more than 75 sidewalk cafes throughout St. Petersburg.
Chief Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn said regulating noise would have to be addressed in a separate ordinance from the sidewalk cafe ordinance. What they could possibly regulate, he said, is if a sidewalk cafe has outdoor amplified noise.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, a recent state court ruling could help the city provide clarity to its enforcement measures of its existing noise ordinance. Winn told the Times that the state's ruling allows the city to enforce its laws.
"The court did not strike down part of the law dealing with the "plainly audible" measure to determine if noise is too loud. Winn sees that as a victory since St. Petersburg noise ordinances are based on how far away noise can be heard at certain times.
For example, noise can be the loudest between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. From 6 to 11 p.m., it cannot be heard from more than 200 feet. The distance drops to 50 feet after 11 p.m."