EDITOR'S NOTE: A little more than five years ago, City Commissioners decided that noise (read: amplified music) was a problem in Key West. They also decided that the noise ordinance then on the books was ineffective. So they appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel of citizens to help draft a new law. After months of wrangling, a new ordinance was drafted, repeatedly amended and, finally, voted into law.
It has never worked because it has really never been enforced.
Now, in 1999, City Commissioners are, once again, talking about Key West's "noise problem." Following a workshop Tuesday night to discuss the problem and listen to citizens, the City Commission appointed you guessed it a Blue Ribbon Panel of citizens to help draft a new law.
Katha Sheehan was at that meeting. Here's her report.
Imagine a Key West with no mopeds tooting no garbage trucks squealing brakes no amplified music no dogs barking, parrots shrilling, roosters crowing, generators or lawn mowers whining, live bands blaring, kids crying, airplanes roaring. What would that be like?
Answer: Big Torch Key. You'd imagine more people would live on Big Torch, and less in Key West, if you had heard all the noise complaints made by the people who attended the City Commission's special workshop on Tuesday, when the public was invited to comment.
Former Mayor Sheila Mullins told the Commission it needed to address "all sources of noise," including dogs, roosters, planes, garbage trucks, and music at night. She urged that the "loopholesö" in the old sound ordinance be filled, and suggested that building owners be made responsible for the noise generated by tenants. She called for more enforcement personnel and an ordinance with "more teeth."
Zaira Sepulveda said it was "not fair for the bars to take over. This should not be a get-drunk-and-party town. We need to clean up Duval."
Musician Ben Harrison said the new ordinance should be "complaint-driven" and responsive. He said the courts have always ruled in favor of the residents when a new bar has opened in a residential neighborhood and caused new noise problems.
Other people spoke against airplane noise, car stereos, and long-running generators (after the hurricane.)
Joan Langley made a personal statement: excessive noise can cause hearing loss, and you really don't want that to happen to you. She said she is hearing- impaired and must wear two hearing aids, which cost $2,500 apiece.
Former mayoral hopeful George Maurer said, "If you don't like living in a party town, why did you come here?" He suggested some areas be designated "noise zones."
Jim Gilloran suggested they form a panel composed of volunteers to conduct an "open discussion, hold three meetings minimum, and try to come up with solutions. Legislation has not been effective in the past. People end up litigating."
Another conciliatory speaker, Whit Robertson of Venetian Drive, pointed out that the airport was there long before he arrived, and a lot of the same noise problems ("trash people, boom boxes") existed where he previously lived, in Virginia. He said he had seen a draft of a Key West noise ordinance "which would make it hard for a man who works all week to cut his grass on Sunday . . . We need a simple, reasonable process to deal with things."
Some noise, he noted, just had to be accepted "as being part of Key West."
Commissioner Harry Bethel eagerly appointed him to a newly-conceived panel to explore the City's options.
A shocker from the Key West police chief, Buz Dillon: he told the Commission he read the City's existing noise ordinance when he was still in Georgia, before he knew the town or the players. He concluded that "obviously they don't want this ordinance enforced because it is a very complicated ordinance."
So here we have a noise ordinance modeled after the policy which drove the war in Vietnam? And we are here to make it more detailed?
City Attorney Robert Tischenkel tossed another bucket of cold water on the crowd. He warned that no ordinance could be effective against certain things like planes, construction, garbage trucks, dogs and roosters. And no ordinance would be as effective against a "chronic noise problem" caused by an intractable neighbor, than a civil suit.
"A lawsuit is your strongest weapon against a chronic problem," he told the public.
Commissioners stressed the need for "reasonableness" and communication among neighbors.