Tampa City Council to hear new noise ordinance rules for Ybor, business owners say it will harm the district

'They're trying to cut the legs out from under the people who have been here for a long time, who are truly invested in what Ybor is and has been for decades.'

click to enlarge A dancer and crowd during a 'Ol' Dirty Sunday' at Crowbar in Ybor City, Florida. - BRIAN MAHAR
A dancer and crowd during a 'Ol' Dirty Sunday' at Crowbar in Ybor City, Florida.
This Thursday, Jan. 13, Tampa City Council will hear the second reading of noise ordinance amendments that seek to quiet down parts of Tampa known for nightlife activity. Business owners in Ybor City say the amended ordinance is over-the-top in its aim to rein in sound.

Two of the amendments stand out most.

First, any form of outdoor amplified sound would be completely banned after midnight in the Ybor City and Arena District in downtown Tampa, where outdoor nighttime activity is key to businesses. Second, no warning would be given to businesses and individuals who are violating the ordinance before they are cited and fined.

This version of Tampa's noise ordinance was presented to Tampa City Council last October by Tampa City Attorney Susan Johnson-Velez, who told council that it would help the Tampa Police Department (TPD) control noise in the area because no warning before citing would be necessary, which differs from the original rules that included a five-minute warning.

A city ordinance in effect right now says that any person or business within the Ybor and Arena districts can receive citations when their outdoor noise levels go higher than 85-87 decibels between the hours of 6 p.m.-1 a.m.

The new amendments being considered Thursday make changes to the decibel levels and time frames; from 1 a.m.-3 a.m. the measurement drops to 75 decibels, and from 3 a.m.-6 p.m., 65-75 decibels would be the legal noise level.

For context, IAC Acoustics, a company specializing in sound control, says that the sound of a food blender is around 88 decibels. Decibel Pro says that 85 decibels is roughly equal to the sound of a noisy restaurant or hotel lobby. This means that during all times of the day, even raised voices could potentially be louder than what the ordinance would allow.

While the decibel levels are only being slightly changed in the amendments, the removal of a warning and all amplified sound being banned after midnight leaves businesses in a tough spot, owners say.

Tom DeGeorge is the spokesman for the Ybor Merchants Association and owns concert venue Crowbar, which he opened in 2006. He's also a resident of Ybor, where bought his house in 2011. DeGeorge hosts an array of music throughout the year, where people can also gather outside during shows. On the weekend, the venue hosts Ol' Dirty Sundays, where DJs play in the Crowbar courtyard and people dance. Under the proposed ordinance, the event couldn't happen outside.

Like many businesses during the pandemic, Crowbar has already struggled to keep afloat, and now he's forced to feel the pressure of what might come next should the city adopt the ordinance.

"How can they just apply this across Ybor and not expect it to have a negative effect here?" DeGeorge said to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, "At the beginning of the pandemic, the city encouraged businesses to be outside, now they're asking for the exact opposite."

DeGeorge says that while he understands controlling noise that is out of hand, he thinks that there are powerful forces at play who want Ybor's culture to change completely, to make the place more opportune for developers who want Ybor to resemble other, quieter parts of Tampa.

In a Facebook post, members of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association said that the city attorneys for Mayor Jane Castor's administration are still pushing the ordinance leading up to Thursday's meeting.

Carole Post, Tampa's outgoing Administrator of Development and Economic Opportunity told CL that council members more than two years ago asked the administration to look at updating the city’s noise ordinance because of growing complaints about noise.

"We want to balance the interests of businesses and residents and bring predictability and eliminate confusion over noise enforcement," Post wrote in an email.

The city continued that the aim of the ordinance is to, "provide businesses and citizens a more uniform, predictable, and understandable set of regulations, where currently there is a confusing tangle or absence of requirements."

But DeGeorge had a different take.

"They're trying to cut the legs out from under the people who have been here for a long time, who are truly invested in what Ybor is and has been for decades," DeGeorge said. He understands that some businesses and people are too loud in Ybor, but wonders why everyone should be restricted due to the behavior of others.

Councilman John Dingfelder, who represents District 3, which encompasses the entire City of Tampa, told CL that the low decibel thresholds that could be cited immediately without warning concern him.

"It's something I'm going to have to ask about at the city council meeting," Dingfelder said. "This has been an issue  in Tampa for a while now, and it's not easy to make everyone happy."

Dingfelder said that he remembers the noise ordinance issue in Ybor reaching back to 2003, and that it was worked on for about a year before the city moved on from the issue. He says that city council often hears complaints about loud music and cars from residents, and that council is attempting to address that problem while also making the situation fair for everyone.

One married couple with the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Association supported the new noise rules on the group's Facebook page. Stephanie Harrison Bailey wrote that Tampa's City Attorneys requested people show up to the Thursday meeting to speak in favor of the ordinance amendment, and shared the attorney's direct numbers within the post for supporters to get in touch.

"City attorneys expect strong business presence next week in opposition of adopting this amendment," Bailey wrote. "They need to hear from residents!"
A post from Bailey regarding the ordinance. - STEPHANIE BAILEY/FACEBOOK
Stephanie Bailey/Facebook
A post from Bailey regarding the ordinance.

The post got a mostly negative response, aside from David Bailey, Stephanie's husband, and one other commenter. Several commenters said that the Baileys moved to Ybor—known for its nightlife culture, and now want to change it. Over and over again, commenters said that if people don't like the culture of Ybor, they should move.

David Bailey, who has lived in Ybor off and on since 2001, told CL that while he and his wife both support local venues and businesses constantly, as Ybor grows, all voices need to be heard on the subject.

"If Ybor is going to be the shining gem that it used to be, there's gonna have to be more people living here, with more residences and we have to be somewhat reasonable with what their tolerance is going to be for noise," Bailey said.

He continued that he didn't necessarily agree with everything in the way the ordinance is currently written, and that any amendments could possibly be adjusted to the will of the community.

Bailey is a real estate agent and the vice president of the neighborhood association, but said that his comments for this story were his own and did not represent the group.

Brian Schaefer owns The Bricks in Ybor, another business that has an outdoor courtyard, which sometimes hosts concerts. Most recently, it had two sold-out acoustic shows from punk-rock icon Laura Jane Grace. He's been going to Ybor since he was a teenager and has lived near 7th Avenue, Ybor's main strip for 14 years. Like most people who CL talked to for this story, he thought that there shouldn't be ear-shattering noise allowed in Ybor, but that the sound levels the ordinance aims for, and banning amplified sound after midnight, are too much.

He said that the ordinance sounds unmanageable, that the city has tried it before and it didn't work, and concentrating on businesses and people who are really pushing it with how loud their sound is would be the way to go.  He added that there are "bigger fish to fry" for the city, like helping make Ybor more walkable.

"The local residents who are for this ordinance should remember that they moved into Ybor, which is known as a party district, not a library district," he said. "Businesses that have been here for a long time really depend on the way Ybor exists now."

Chip Williams has lived and worked in Ybor for 18 years, and he's lived a block away from Seventh Avenue for over six of those years. He's had firsthand experience with music pouring in his window from a club that left their music on late. He sees both sides of the issue, but doesn't see silencing the entire district as a fair outcome.

"I've made noise ordinance complaints," Williams said. "So I get the frustration from a resident side 100%. But I don't think the solution is changing the ordinance and taking away property rights from property owners and business owners."