SKA seeking enforceable noise standards for Siesta Village

Chris Brown, co-owner of The Hub Baja Grill in Siesta Village, says he is willing to reduce the decibel level allowed for live music under his special exception. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The president and vice president of the Siesta Key Association were scheduled to meet today, July 6, with Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid to discuss strategies for better management of noise issues in Siesta Key Village.

The meeting was part of a continuing effort to create an environment in Siesta Village that is acceptable to business owners and residents, SKA President Catherine Luckner indicated to The Sarasota News Leader.

During a June 13 budget workshop, the county commissioners took no action on an SKA proposal for hiring a new code enforcement officer who could work some nights and weekends in the Village, to monitor the live music levels.

During the July 5 regular SKA meeting, Vice President Peter van Roekens emphasized the need for enforcement of decibel levels allowed by a county noise ordinance and special exceptions granted to three Village restaurants — The Hub Baja Grill, the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar and the Siesta Key Oyster Bar.

Moreover, van Roekens said, the special exceptions needed to be rational. He said he had spoken recently with Chris Brown, co-owner of The Hub, who was agreeable to reducing his allowed decibel level from 85 to 75, if music could be played “anywhere on his property …” Van Roekens called that “a perfectly fair” proposal. “I have no problem with that whatsoever.”

“Except presumably in his parking lot,” County Commissioner Nora Patterson interjected.

SKA Director Joyce Kouba said she didn’t see why it would matter where the music was played, if Brown made sure the performers adhered to the 75-decibel level.

Patterson said she was referring to the county’s parking code — that Brown would not want to take up parking spaces with musicians.

Diane Erne, a resident of a condominium on Avenida Messina, right next to Blu Que Island Grill, on property Brown also owns, said she would object to live music in that restaurant’s parking lot. “When they have bands in the parking lot, it is intolerable,” Erne said.

In a July 6 interview, Brown told the News Leader that when he had spoken with van Roekens, he had discussed the decibel-level proposal for The Hub property only — “anywhere on the parcel ID,” he said.

“And [at 75 decibels],” he said, “it really shouldn’t matter” where the musicians are.

Referring to Erne’s and Patterson’s comments at the SKA meeting, Brown said, “This has nothing to do with Blu Que. … This has nothing to do with parking lots.”

He would like to be able to have performers upstairs at The Hub in the future, for example, Brown said.

“And I will stay within the 75 decibels at the property line,” he added.

During the SKA discussion, van Roekens said he felt the Village businesses also should make certain their speakers face their buildings, instead of being out.

However, he reiterated that enforcement was the most important facet of dealing with noise issues. “People play at whatever level they think they can get away with, and that’s gone on [in the Village],” he said.

“We hope that Code Enforcement will start to do some of this measuring,” van Roekens said.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has been handling enforcement.

Brown told the News Leader he was not in favor of the county hiring another code enforcement officer. Instead, Brown said, he favored county officials asking John Lally, the code enforcement officer for Siesta Key, whether Lally would be willing to work some overtime hours during the week and on weekends, to help with noise enforcement. “John is fair,” Brown added.

Van Roekens said during the SKA meeting he also felt the Raw Bar and SKOB would be agreeable to a uniform standard of 75 decibels for their special exceptions, especially SKOB, he said, which has to reduce its sound level to 60 decibels after 10 p.m.

Kouba agreed that a standard decibel level for all the businesses with special exceptions “makes enforcement a lot easier.”

Van Roekens added, “Special exceptions really should be dealing with time of day” when music is played.

Patterson pointed out that The Hub’s special exception allows it to have the 85 decibel level until 1:30 a.m.

That decision was made by a County Commission in the 1980s, she said, “when there weren’t really any live bands [playing at the site where The Hub stands]. They had a jazz musician that played inside a rather small establishment.”

Patterson added that when Brown brought a lawsuit against the county over zoning decisions that delayed the opening of his business in the fall of 2007, part of the settlement allowed him “to continue that special exception even though it hadn’t been used for a couple of years.”

Brown told the News Leader the special exception dated from the 1990s, adding that the settlement of the lawsuit did recognize the exception, though the lawsuit in no way dealt with matters related to it.

A Sarasota County document says the special exception was granted in March 1992.

Van Roekens also said during the SKA meeting that while he previously had advocated for a sound expert to rewrite the county’s noise ordinance, he had changed his mind after discussing that point with individual county commissioners. If such an expert was unfamiliar with the Siesta Village situation, he said, the resulting ordinance might not be agreeable to any of the parties involved, “because it would be this perfect sound ordinance. I’m not looking for perfection here. I’m looking for something that allows people to sleep at a [reasonable] hour,” with measurable standards that can “stand up in a court of law.”

Van Roekens said he had found a noise consultant in Tampa with a legal background who could be very helpful in working with county officials on an enforceable new ordinance.

SKA Director Bob Waechter agreed that a new ordinance would have to be written so the businesses that would have to abide by it would be able to do so.

SKA Director Deet Jonker pointed out that his long background in show business made him aware that musicians “love to play loud and they just don’t know a low decibel level.”

Regarding van Roekens’ goals, Jonker added, “I like what I hear. I think it’s excellent [but] I’m not saying it’s going to be the panacea … that we hope [for].”

Finally, van Roekens said he would make available to anyone interested information about “a marvelous product” that blocks sound. Called Acoustiblok, it is made by a company in Tampa.

The company website says the “pliable 3mm (1/8″) thick Acoustiblok is engineered not to stop or even absorb sound, but through a unique thermodynamic process Acoustiblok transforms the sound energy into trace amounts of inaudible friction energy ….”