More noise about noise: Council advocates ‘Marco midnight,’ sends ordinance back to staff

Lance Shearer

Spring Hill police demonstrate a  decibel meter they use to measure noise in the city  in  2008.

There was more noise about the noise ordinance during the Aug. 16 City Council meeting, the council’s only session during the month of August. The related topic of short-term rentals also boiled up, causing a sharp exchange during the public comment period.

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The proposed changes to the Noise Control Amendments came up for a second reading after being presented in May and having their first reading in July. Councilor Rich Blonna got the ball rolling, with a set of proposed changes to the changes, after Police Chief Tracy Frazzano gave a brief presentation on the current state of the ordinance.

He said he would rather have the chief “out policing than rewriting the noise ordinance for the 14th time,” but expressed a fondness for the “Marco midnight” concept that sees the island tucked into bed and quiet after 9 p.m. That would be for residential areas, while commercially zoned properties could have louder volumes until the actual midnight. He proposed fining all adults at properties in violation, using license plate numbers to identify the perpetrators.

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Councilor Joe Rola said he would not vote for anything that extends the hours when louder noises are permitted, and also dismissed the idea that property owners should have to enforce the noise ordinance by suing neighbors who violate it. Councilor Erik Brechnitz pointed out the difficulty the city has in collecting fines currently.

“We only collect one third of what we levy,” he said. Brechnitz also said the deed restrictions actually come from MICA and not from the city. “MICA selectively enforces their deed restrictions,” he said, and has opted not to not to enforce the restrictions on renting residential properties. “They say you can’t rent; the city says you can.”

Councilor Becky Irwin asked Chief Frazzano for more clarification on the “plainly audible” standard for noise, which Frazzano said was anything that could be heard from an adjoining property. This would mean that people having a conversation on their lanai while the sun was still out would be breaking the law, said Irwin.

Christine Dowell speaks to the council during the public comment period, taking former councilor Larry Honig to task. The Marco Island City Council met for its only August meeting on Monday, August 16.

Vice Chair Greg Folley said he was “kind of in favor of what the chief had recommended,” but asked for codification of the various standards. Councilor Claire Babrowski said the ordinance was not ready to be voted on. “We’re rushing,” she said.

In earlier public comments, Christine Dowell suggested former councilor and current planning board member Larry Honig should resign, saying he was disparaging citizens and a council member. Grifoni responded, saying Dowell’s social media posts are “vitriolic, they’re false, they’re filled with lies and misrepresentations,” and her “personal attacks on me and my family … was really disturbing.”

Dowell wanted to offer a rebuttal and would not leave the podium until after several requests, gaveling from the chair, and a MIPD patrolman approaching to escort her away.

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In public comments on the noise ordinance, comments again became heated. Christine Dowell suggested that Councilor Irwin, a rental property owner, should recuse herself from voting on the issue. City Attorney Alan Gabriel said that she had no conflict that would require her to recuse.

A mobile app from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety helps determine if your hearing is being harmed.

“There’s a lot of red herrings tonight. Who is pushing to loosen this ordinance?” asked Linda Goslee. She said people are selling out of fear their homes will become worthless. “Who is pushing you guys to change this ordinance, six months after you put it in force? Who is telling you you have to loosen this ordinance? This is a huge issue. Kick this can down the road,” she urged. “This island needs to be known – you want to rent here, shut up. Be quiet. Don’t disturb your neighbors.” A lot of people, she said, are afraid to call the police to report violations.

Rola made a motion that the issue be deferred until the new year, but it died for lack of a second. Eventually, council voted 7-0 to send the issue back to city staff for more clarification on the noise definitions, short term rental property registrations, and enforcement, a motion by Babrowski.

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The council also voted unanimously to grant City Manager Mike McNees $12,000 per year as a housing allowance, and restored the original zoning designation to several properties along San Marco Rd.

Before any of the above, the city’s Beautification Advisory Committee chair Shelli Connelly briefed the council on her group’s efforts, including Marco Nature Night, the Beautify Marco Island campaign, and being named a Tree City USA for the 11th year. They are also working on initiatives such as adding public art to spaces such as beach access points and updating the committee’s website.

Marco Island Fire Rescue Captain Leo Rodriguez was honored for 15 years of service to the city.

Council will meet again on Sept. 7, a Tuesday meeting as Monday is Labor Day.