Commissioners to revisit noise ordinance

Holmes Beach noise
Attorney Jim Dye discusses possible options for commissioners to consider when amending the city’s noise ordinance. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners aren’t sure how they’re going to amend the city’s noise ordinance to help residents with ongoing issues, but they all agree that something needs to be done.

After a lengthy discussion with legal counsel and suggestions offered by residents, Commissioner Judy Titsworth said she’d place discussion for amending the noise ordinance and public nuisance ordinance on an upcoming work session agenda.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer agreed with commissioners. While he said officers are seeing some progress in reduction of noise complaints, none of the department’s efforts are working as well as he’d like.

Some of the HBPD’s efforts to quiet residential noise, particularly at vacation rental homes, including speaking with tenants and rental agents, handing out pamphlets on city regulations and placing window clings noticing renters of the city’s noise ordinance on doors leading out to pool areas.

A new program where Tokajer said the most positive impact is being had is where code enforcement officers greet renters when they arrive at one of seven identified problem houses. The officers welcome the renters, advise them of the city’s noise ordinance and remind them to be respectful of their residential neighbors while visiting. Tokajer said the program is working and has reduced calls at those houses to minimal levels.

When a noise complaint is called in, HBPD officers or code enforcement officers respond immediately. Upon arrival, an officer takes a reading using a noise meter from multiple areas on the property. If the noise rises above 65 decibels during the day or 50 decibels at night, it’s an automatic violation. Officers also can use seven standards defined in the noise ordinance to determine if the noise is too loud above the usual noise for the neighborhood and issue a warning or a citation.

“Noise is a very difficult thing to regulate,” Attorney Jim Dye said. He said he stands behind the city’s current noise ordinance, which has been found to be legally defensible if challenged in court.

One of the ongoing issues residents are having is with loud noise during daytime hours from children in pools at vacation rental properties.

“Kids in pools is a tough argument to make,” Dye said, adding it would be easier if the issue occurred in a 55 and older restricted community. “Kids in the pool may be part of the package with the caveat of if they’re louder than the surrounding noise.”

Tokajer said one of the issues facing officers responding to complaints is that the noise from the pools isn’t registering over the 65-decibel limit on the noise meter. He said while some loud noises, such as screams, last for only a few seconds unless the screaming is continuous, the ambient sounds in the neighborhood often register louder than the sounds of children playing. He said his officers do go to the home and ask the occupants to be mindful of the residential neighborhood and keep the noise down.

Some ideas commissioners are considering include lowering the decibel limits and altering nighttime and daytime hours. In a group statement, residents of Holmes Boulevard suggested decreasing daytime hours to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Currently, the city’s daytime hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. which Dye said is in line with most other communities. In Manatee County daytime hours are observed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 7 a.m. to midnight on weekends.

Another suggestion is to amend the city’s public nuisance ordinance to allow for enforcement at repeat problem vacation rentals even if the occupants change weekly.

A third suggestion is to raise the fines given for noise violations. Several people spoke in favor of raising fine amounts, something commissioners were open to considering. Commissioner Jim Kihm thanked everyone who spoke and for providing commissioners not only with complaints but with possible solutions to the problems facing residents.

“We want to be a welcoming city,” he said, adding that he also hopes visitors will be respectful of their temporary neighbors in residential areas.

Commissioner Rick Hurst said he feels more education is necessary to make visitors aware of the city’s regulations.

“Ninety-five percent of people are good, they just don’t know,” he said.