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Tampa council members to consider new rules that could quiet some bars, clubs

Tampa City Council will consider the noise ordinance during a Thursday morning meeting
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Posted at 6:56 AM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 08:23:01-05

TAMPA, Fla. — The sound of live music is a welcome one at Crowbar in Ybor City.

The venue, which has called the historic city district home for 15 years, hosts all kinds of bands from all over the world. But as owner Tom DeGeorge knows personally, the pandemic packed a punch.

“It’s been tough,” DeGeorge said. “I’d say, right now, we’re probably at about 50% of our gross revenue.”

Nightlife is slowly returning, but DeGeorge, who’s also a spokesperson for the Ybor Merchants Association, is now focused on what he considers another threat to business at his club and other venues in the area.

During a meeting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Tampa City Council will consider approving a noise ordinance that could quiet some clubs and bars.

“I think it’s going to change the DNA of the whole city,” DeGeorge said. “I think it’s going to be a big problem all over.”

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According to data provided by the city, Tampa Police received 12,474 “calls for service due to music disturbances” between Jan. 1, 2019, and Oct. 31, 2020.

As more residences are established in various parts of the city, Carole Post, the city’s Development & Economic Opportunity Administrator, says Tampa City Council requested a better set of regulations related to noise, since no unified policy currently exists in city code.

“We certainly do not want to impose unrealistic expectations on our bars and on our restaurants and on our entertainment districts. They’re active, vibrant places, and we want to encourage them to continue to be that way,” said Post. “We’re just trying to, you know, find a middle ground here that balances the competing needs.”

The city plan would make several changes, but only some of which have garnered attention and opposition.

First, it would prohibit “outdoor amplified sound” citywide after midnight. According to the ordinance, amplified sound “means any sound, including the human voice and music, that is augmented, amplified, projected, transmitted by or emanating from any sound amplification device.”

“This does not limit how a business can operate,” explained Post. “They can certainly continue to operate ‘til 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. They can have interior music. They can have amplified sound inside, but…they would have to cut the outdoor amplified sound after midnight.”

The ordinance would also specifically restrict noise in the Arena District and Ybor City late at night.

“The proposal will reduce — incrementally reduce — the level of sound basically beginning at 1 a.m,” explained Post. “Right now, it can be up to 85-decibel levels…24/7.”

The ordinance, if passed, would allow sounds in Ybor City and the Arena District to reach:

  • 85 decibels (dB) or 87 dB between 6 p.m. and 1 a.m.
  • 75 dB between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.
  • 65 dB or 75 dB between 3 a.m. and 6 p.m.

For context, according to the CDC, the sound of city traffic can measure around 85 dB. The sound of a dishwasher or washing machine can measure around 70 dB.

Additionally, according to Discover Magazine, the crow of a rooster—a ubiquitous Ybor City sound—can measure around 100 dB when gauged at close proximity. The CDC says “noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing.”

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The ordinance would also change how noise violations are enforced. Currently, officers are required to give violators a five-minute warning to “bring the sound level into compliance” before a citation is written. Post, however, says some of the most “egregious” noise offenders have treated the warning provision as a loophole to continue violating current noise limitations.

As a result, the proposed ordinance would allow Tampa officers to ticket a noise violator without issuing a warning first. Post, however, believes officers will still have the ability to use appropriate discretion before citing noise offenders.

“It does not limit the police from still providing warnings instead of violations, and they do that frequently,” she said.

DeGeorge, however, says the change is concerning.

“Getting a warning, where we can assess it and go back and fix it, is important,” he said. “I don’t think what they’re proposing right now is the answer.”

It’s his hope that the city will table the ordinance and send it back to the drawing board.

“I think what we need to do is we need economic impact study, first, to see how a noise ordinance this strict will affect the economy here in Tampa,” the nightclub owner said. “And two, a workshop with small business owners that care about the community — that aren’t people that are pushing the needle way too hard.”

If Tampa City Council approves the ordinance in the Thursday meeting, DeGeorge anticipates some Ybor City business owners will consider legal action to slow or stop its implementation.