Sarasota County deputies, code enforcement officers undergo noise meter training

Siesta Key Association emphasizes cooperation on solving noise problems

Photo by Norman Schimmel

Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Sarasota County code enforcement officers spent about four hours the afternoon of Thursday, June 7, training on the sound meters used to handle noise complaints throughout the county, Sgt. Scott Osborne reported during the Siesta Key Association meeting that evening.

Sheriff Tom Knight had invited a representative of Quest Technologies, which makes the meters used by county employees, to hold the session, Osborne told the SKA board and about 20 members.

Of the 22 deputies who participated in the session, Osborne said, 15 never had used the meters, which measure decibel levels. Three code enforcement officers, including John Lally, who works on Siesta Key, rounded out the group, Osborne said.

Not only are the meters useful in handling complaints about loud music in Siesta Village, Osborne pointed out, they also are vital to deputies in responding to calls about loud residential parties, construction noise — especially the use of bulldozers — and loud air-conditioning units.

During his report — the first after health issues had kept him out of work for five weeks — Lally reported that code enforcement no longer was part of the county’s Zoning Division. An administrative decision had put the office on its own standing again, which should help the officers in handling problems, he added.

Regarding another administrative initiative, Lally said, “I’m not real sure where [Sarasota County Administration] is going to find money for another [code enforcement] officer” to work in Siesta Village, because he himself had been unable to get even a small raise.

During a discussion among the Sarasota County commissioners May 23, County Administrator Randall Reid said he had asked staff to prepare a report on the feasibility of hiring extra Code Enforcement help for weekend and night work in Siesta Village. The cost of a salary and benefits for a full-time person, Reid said, would be about $44,000.

Rob Lewis, the county’s director of planning and development services, told The Sarasota News Leader in late May that he hoped to have that report ready in time for the commission’s budget discussions next week.

A code enforcement discussion is listed on the agenda for the session starting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 13. The budget meeting that day and on June 12 will be held in the Third Floor Think Tank of the County Administration Building, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.

During the Siesta Key Village Association meeting June 5, President Russell Matthes said he disagreed with the county effort to hire extra code enforcement help in Siesta Village. “Open communication usually gets the job done,” Matthes added.

SKA Vice President Peter van Roekens, who represents both the SKA and the Terrace East homeowners at that meeting, told Matthes the SKA had recommended county staff look into hiring extra code enforcement help on a part-time basis only.

During his June 7 SKA meeting comments, van Roekens said the SKA had supported having another code enforcement officer working on Siesta Key, but not just for noise problems.

Matthes noted during the Village Association meeting that the Village had not had any noise problems in the past six weeks. Once business owners understood the ordinance’s stipulations, he added, they wanted to comply with them; they did not want problems.

“I still feel like a deputy can handle this,” Matthes said.

“We certainly agree that the best way is for the local businesses to take care of themselves,” van Roekens told Matthes.

Learning to live together

During the SKA meeting, Van Roekens noted that the noise ordinance, which had been in effect for the past 10 years, was due to sunset this fall.

While Siesta Village had been quiet the past few weeks, he said, “most residents have left for the summer and season has wound down.”

He pointed out, “The residents want the merchants to succeed, that’s for sure,” and the SKA wants them to succeed.

“At the same time,” van Roekens said, “residents need to be able to sleep. Arguing about who was here first doesn’t really help.”

Still, he pointed out, the Terrace condominiums were built at the south end of the Village in the 1970s. At that time, he said, the Village had few bars, and music almost always was played indoors. As the years have passed, he said, the Village has seen a lot of growth in entertainment venues, and music often is played outdoors.

“So we have to learn to live together,” he said. “I think the best approach is self-regulation, but that has not worked during season.”

Van Roekens said he believed a new noise ordinance for the Village should be written by a sound expert “to achieve the desired result. It needs to be easy to decide if a violation has occurred.”

Moreover, van Roekens said, the ordinance needed to be enforced, and penalties for violations needed to escalate, “so they’re not viewed as the cost of doing business.”

He added, “I think we can work together to get this problem solved.”

SKA President Catherine Luckner said people who live near the Village recently had been characterized by one publication in Sarasota as “a bunch of retired old [people] who just can’t stay up at night.”

However, she said, demographics showed that half of Siesta Key’s residents are under 60. They work and they are raising children, she said.

The SKA, the Village Association and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce have a very good relationship, Luckner added. “I don’t see this as a polarizing moment at all.”

Samira Davis of Key Solutions, who handles both commercial and residential real estate, told the board that the June 7 meeting was her first. “It is tremendously energizing for me to see that people are looking for a solution and the attitude here is not down with business,” she said.