Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 3, 2017 12:03 p.m.
At the end of a very long Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) on May 2, 2017, Commissioners voted 4-1 on second and final reading to approve revisions to the city’s noise ordinance.
The City’s noise ordinance has been discussed at several recent City Commission meetings due to the Patio Place (located at 416 Ash Street) occasionally playing live, amplified music on its patio adjacent to residential properties. Citizens have complained about live music at the Patio Place, which led to the issuance of a written warning to Patio Place owner Amy Petroy. The warning was later dismissed because of confusing Ordinance language. (For background, see previous Fernandina Observer article https://fernandinaobserver.com/2017/04/06/sounds-off-center-fbcc-to-revise-noise-ordinance/)
The approved changes move the 100-foot distance any time of day or night to Section 42-142 and provide a definition of “plainly audible” based upon the 2013 Florida Supreme Court decision in Catalano finding the “plainly audible” standard constitutional.
Amy Petroy asked that the FBCC continue the item to a future meeting, thereby giving her additional time to consult with her counsel in order to allow her to present additional concerns for the commission’s consideration. She expressed concerns over the effects of enforcement of this ordinance on her business and the “reasonableness” of the enforcement changes.
Petroy said, “I am a reasonable person, and that’s why I am requesting ‘reasonableness.’” She said that her patrons have requested a band, and that she would like to have it play at most twice a month, so that people can dance only on Friday and Saturday nights between 6-10 p.m. She added that she had followed FBCC advice and approached a neighbor, even bringing crepes, but that it had not worked out well; she was threatened. That’s why she wanted time for her counsel to examine other ordinances and make suggestions.
Commissioner Roy Smith said that he had recently driven past The Patio Place and heard music more than 25 feet from the premises. He agreed with Petroy about the need for uniform enforcement of the ordinance. He said that he had heard enough complaints about downtown music and indicated that he was prepared to move forward to ban all amplified music. “Let’s just say no amplification of voice or instruments. You can play instruments that are electric without amplifying the sound like that. Just tell everyone, ‘You can’t have it.’ That way, everyone’s happy.”
Petroy disagreed. She said that her customers have told her that the reason they come to Fernandina is because of the city and the music. “They didn’t say the city and the restaurants; they said the city and the music. They love the variety of the music that comes here.” She said that without amplification, music would be limited to just an acoustic guitar.
Smith continued to press his point, disagreeing about the need for amplification for small areas.
Commissioner John Miller, who bartends at the Palace Saloon, disagreed with Smith. “That doesn’t work,” Miller said, directing his comments toward Smith. “In a bar situation, the music cannot be heard over the conversations without amplification. You will put at least 10 musicians out of work [in Fernandina]. They will go someplace else where they can play. It’s not going to work.”
Smith continued his argument, claiming that patrons have to talk loud in order to be heard over the music.
City Attorney Tammi Bach reminded commissioners that the ordinance modifications were only for clarification. No current rules regarding noise were being changed. The Police Department has asked for these changes for some time. “It will work exactly the same,” she said.
Commissioner Tim Poynter moved and Vice Mayor Len Kreger seconded the motion to approve the revised ordinance. Poynter said, “We wanted to clean [the ordinance] up, and that’s what we did.”
Bach explained to Petroy that her attorney could bring any other proposed changes to her for future consideration by the FBCC.
When the vote was called, Smith voted against it because he wanted to delay it to allow Petroy to bring additional concerns to a future meeting for consideration. “What’s the pressing problem now?” he asked.
All other commissioners voted in favor of the revised ordinance. Mayor Robin Lentz said that she hoped Petroy would have her counsel reach out to the city attorney with any other suggestions.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.