Sound debate climaxes tonight (maybe)



Officially, Tuesday’s Key West City Commission meeting should be the finale in creating a new sound ordinance that pits Duval Street bar owners against sleep-deprived residents.

Unofficially, however, the ordinance may still undergo substantial changes at the meeting tonight, which will mark the second reading of the proposed ordinance. Whatever the city commissioners decide, if they vote to approve any changes, the new ordinance will become law immediately.

That’s what some entertainment venue owners are afraid of, promising to pack the room with musicians and bar managers to protest any reduction in the current decibel levels for live and recorded entertainment. They say they use music to draw patrons into their establishments and if they can’t do that, they may be forced to eliminate the entertainment, putting musicians and some staff out of work.

Residents, on the other hand, have long protested the late-night loud music emanating from various bars and restaurants, most along the Duval Street corridor. They say they don’t want to put anyone out of work, but intrusive noise has only gotten louder over the past few years.

“Since the opening of Awful Arthurs and then Cowboy Bill’s, I have been plagued with unreasonably loud music to the point where I can no longer use my backyard in peace. I have needed to have my TV amplified in order to hear it,” said Rebecca Black, 4 Aronovitz Lane, in an email to commissioners.

Commissioners tried to find a middle ground at their last meeting by proposing to increase legal decibel levels but allow enforcement officers to come closer to the establishment to measure sound levels, a move some entertainment venue managers say would force them to eliminate live music during the day, when the allowable decibel levels are lower.

Commissioner Teri Johnston said she intends to propose dividing Duval into three areas, upper, middle and lower. On lower Duval, up to the 400 block, the allowable decibel levels would be higher because that area already houses multiple entertainment venues with live music. Middle Duval would stretch approximately from the 500 to 900 block of Duval, and upper Duval would run from the 900 block to the end, Johnston said.

“I have every intention of creating levels, either timeframes or decibel levels for upper Duval. To have the same decibel level there [as the more entertainment-orientated areas of Duval] until 4 a.m. is really difficult,” she said.

In addition to setting decibel levels, commissioners will also take a first crack at other elements surrounding the noise level debate. One proposed ordinance, which will receive a first reading Tuesday night, requires entertainment venue owners to place speakers or other types of sound amplifiers at least 15 feet away from any entrances, exits or windows.


The proposed ordinance also establishes a three-strike rule. If an establishment receives three or more music-related noise violations within a 12-month period, the city manager has the authority to revoke or suspend the entertainment license.

Previously, license suspension penalties began after two violations in a 12-month period.



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