HOLMES BEACH – Excessive noise in residential areas is once again a hot topic of conversation in the Island’s largest city.
With the high tourist season in full swing, new visitors are coming in every day, some for several months and some for just a few days. The influx of visitors into residential areas where homes are built close together sometimes creates an issue for residents due to increased noise. City leaders enacted a noise ordinance more than a year ago with a public education component to help alleviate the issues for residents and remind visitors that they’re vacationing in a residential neighborhood.
The noise ordinance limits daytime noise to 65 decibels and nighttime noise, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., to 50 decibels. At 55 decibels, noise is described as a quiet conversation between two people or light traffic. At 65 decibels, noise should be at about the level of a normal conversation or regular vehicular traffic. And while the level of noise decreases the further away from it you are, in Holmes Beach’s residential areas, sometimes the furthest away you can get on your own property isn’t that far away at all. When noise becomes a problem, residents and visitors are encouraged to report the issue to the Holmes Beach Police Department.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said the correct way to report a noise complaint is to call the police department’s dispatcher directly at 941-708-5807. Do not call 911. By calling dispatch, Tokajer said it allows the call to be recorded, creating a record of the incident. Callers can give their name and address or be anonymous. Anonymous callers also have the ability to give their name and address but to remain anonymous on the police records. During the day, if available, code enforcement officers respond to noise complaints. At night, or during the day if code enforcement officers are not available, police officers respond to complaints.
When officers respond to a noise complaint, they take along one of the city’s two noise meters. Officers use the decibel measurement from the noise meter to determine if the noise observed is in violation of the city’s noise ordinance. When a caller identifies themselves to dispatchers when placing the noise complaint, officers can approach the home and, if permitted, observe the noise and take meter readings from where the complainant heard the excessive noise. If the complainant chooses to not identify themselves or does not allow officers onto their property, Tokajer said officers can still do the noise meter readings but they have to be done without officers trespassing on private property. That means potentially less accurate meter readings and that some readings can only be done from the street or an adjoining property. Tokajer said officers typically do four noise meter readings at different points on the property in question.
Regardless of whether or not the noise officers observe is found by the meter readings to be in violation of the noise ordinance, he said officers approach the residence in question and ask the occupants to keep the noise down. Noise complaints also are followed up on by officers the following day to see if there are any recurring issues, he added.
For noise to be in violation of the noise ordinance, Tokajer said the responding officers must observe the noise and it must be sustained noise. One scream from a pool area might not earn the occupants a citation but consistent screams over a period of time would. Tokajer said the noise meter picks up “peaks and valleys” in sound.
Though the city’s noise ordinance does allow for enforcement not through the noise meter readings but through seven observational criteria, Tokajer said officers only use the seven criteria to describe the incident when filling out a report instead of an enforcement tool because, if a citation is challenged, the meter reading has a better chance of holding up in court.