Marco Island Council approves new noise ordinance as complaints grow

Marco Island Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano speaks during a City Council meeting on Oct. 5, 2020.

Marco Island City Council approved unanimously on Monday amendments to the city's noise ordinance, bringing back decibel and time limits in an attempt to reduce noise complaints as they continue to grow.

Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano said the main benefit of measuring noise is to make enforcement more objective.

"The focus becomes more on the noise level and not the content so we are not really worried about what type of music is being played," she said. 

Five noise meters and calibration equipment would cost the city $10,000, which would come from the city's capital replacement funds.

So far this year, the city has received 386 more noise calls or complaints than it did all of last year, according to police.

Through September, there were 763 noise calls or complaints, and 361 of them were confirmed.

That’s compared to last year when the city received 377 calls and confirmed 281. In 2018 the city received 370 calls and confirmed 107.

Frazzano said loud music in residences is the most prevalent cause of complaints with 351 calls this year. Most calls are at night.

Following the Council vote, it is now unlawful for any person, including the property owner and manager, to allow or cause unreasonably excessive noise from a property within the city. 

Whether recurrent, intermittent or continuous, a sound is considered unreasonably excessive if it is "plainly audible" from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. a minimum of 50 feet from the property line of the source of the sound or on any nearby property from within a fully enclosed structure or residence.

Noise is measured in units of sound pressure levels called decibels using A-weighted sound levels, or dBA, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration's website.

It will be also be against code to allow or cause noise at or beyond 60 dBA from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. and at or beyond 66 dBA from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in residential areas.

In commercial areas, it will be also be against code to allow or cause noise at or beyond 65 dBA from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and at or beyond 72 dBA from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Some properties, like houses of worship, are partially exempted from some of these rules. Rules are stricter in multifamily dwellings and duplexes. 

The amendment also regulates certain activities that create loud noises.

For example, it is now against code to operate construction equipment on city and federal holidays. It was already not allowed on Sundays or between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

All types of landscaping services are allowed everyday between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., including holidays, with no decibel limits.

A person may request a temporary exemption from the city if the rules would create an "undue hardship" on because of "unique circumstances."

Marco Island City Councilor Howard Reed speaks during a Council meeting on Oct. 5, 2020.

City Councilor Howard Reed said homeowners have the right to make noise and enjoy their properties, but it needs to be balanced with the rights of the neighbors.

"I do not believe you that have the right to impose that noise on your neighbor and disturb their peace," he said.

Penalties also changed in the new version of the noise ordinance.

The noisemaker, if they are different from the owner of the residence, can receive a civil citation and a fine up to $250 for disturbing the peace for each incident.

The homeowner will receive notice of violation for the first violation in a 12-month period, constituting an official warning. Each new violation could include fines ranging from $250 to $5,000.

After 11 p.m., the city will skip the warnings and go straight to issuing fines, and each subsequent call to the residence will count as a separate violation.

These fines will not be enough by themselves to deter noisemakers, according to some councilors.

Marco Island City Councilor Victor Rios speaks during a Council meeting on Oct. 5, 2020.

City Councilor Victor Rios said many violators of the noise ordinance visit Marco Island every year and some have told him they do not pay city fines.

Some residents echoed Rios' concerns about unpaid fines.

Stephen Fleischer, a Marco Island resident, said he has called police more than a dozen times to make noise complaints regarding a short-term rental behind his property.

"Fines aren't being paid so essentially if you are not going to fine somebody they have no reason to stop (the) noise," he said.

City Attorney Alan Gabriel said liens can be placed against the property when the violator is a property owner.

Gabriel also said the city can turn a citation into a judgment to compel non-homeowners to pay the fines but that he is not aware of any city doing that. He also said the city could consider using the services of a collection agency.

The last substantive change to the city’s noise ordinance occurred in 2015 when the city eliminated decibel and time limits because they were "difficult to enforce," according to the 2015 ordinance.

Marco Island resident Stephen Fleischer speaks during a City Council meeting on Oct. 5, 2020.

At the time, city councilors Joe Batte, Ken Honecker, Larry Honig; Vice Chairman Bob Brown and Chairman Larry Sacher voted in favor, according to the minutes of the meeting. Councilors Amadeo R. Petricca and Victor Rios voted against it.

"In 2015, (then) City Manager Roger Hernstadt and (then) Police Chief Al Schettino advised council one way," Honig wrote in an email Tuesday. 

"Today, five years later and in a very different situation, a new city manager and a new police chief are suggesting a different approach."

Phares Heindl, a City Council candidate, said he has not heard City Council discuss the effectiveness of the previous ordinance in the last five years.

"I haven't heard a word," he said.

Frazzano said the city will evaluate the effectiveness of the new noise ordinance in six months from now.

"I hope we got it right, but everybody agreed to reexamine periodically and make changes in the future if necessary," Honig wrote.

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