Marco Island noise complaints increase 60% since new rules took effect
Noise complaints on Marco Island have increased 60% since City Council adopted new noise regulations last October, Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano said in a council meeting Monday.
Marco Island Police Department received 374 noise calls from Oct. 5, 2020, to April 9 of this year, 150 more calls compared to the same period between 2019 and 2020 when it received 224 calls, Frazzano said.
Out of the 374 noise calls, Frazzano said 99 or 26% were verified, which means that police showed up and confirmed the noises were a violation.
Frazzano said the calls increased because City Council approved a new "plainly audible" standard, which is "any sound that can be clearly heard and understood."
City Council voted unanimously to instruct city staff to bring back in a future meeting a proposal to amend the city's noise ordinance.
Since October, it is unlawful for any person, including the property owner and manager, to allow or cause unreasonably excessive noise from a property within the city.
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.
Frazzano also said the calls increased because residents have become more aware of the new rules.
"There was a big amount of talk about the noise ordinance, so I think more people were really aware of what the noise ordinance was and what limitations we had put on it," Frazzano said.
Noise is measured in units of sound pressure levels called decibels using A-weighted sound levels, or dBA, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's website.
Since October, it is also a violation 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 is a violation 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.
The decibel limits are stricter in multifamily dwellings and duplexes, where the plainly audible standard does not apply. Some properties, like houses of worship, are partially exempted from some of these rules.
A purchase order shows the city bought five sound meters for nearly $15,000 in October of last year.
Penalties also changed in the new version of the noise ordinance.
Noise makers, 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 can receive a notice for the first violation in a 12-month period, constituting an official warning. Each new violation could include staggered fines ranging from $250 to $5,000.
After 11 p.m., the city skips the warnings and goes straight to issuing fines, and each subsequent call to the residence will count as a separate violation.
Since October, the city has issued $37,750 in fines, Frazzano said.
Frazzano said City Council could consider moving the 8 p.m. plainly audible period to a later time and increase the decibel level allowed during the day.
"You really want to experience being able to sit on your lanai, and be able to have a conversation with family, your loved ones, have dinner, have a birthday party, have the kids playing in the pool," Frazzano said.
"I still think that 8 p.m. is a little bit too early," she said.
City Councilor Richard Blonna said he agrees with Frazzano's recommendations, but that he disagrees with the current stricter decibel limits for multifamily dwellings and duplexes. During the day the limit is 50 dBA. The limit is 45 dBA at night.
"That's something that needs to be looked at," Blonna said.
City Councilor Greg Folley said he was "comfortable" with Frazzano's recommendations, but City Councilor Claire Babrowski said the current standards are "not reasonable." Babrowski also said the rules are too complicated for visitors.
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 a 2015 ordinance.
"There is no way our visitors are here long enough to figure all that out," Babrowski said.
City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni asked whether the fines are being paid, but Frazzano referred his question to the finance department. Guillermo Polanco, director of finance, was not present at the meeting.
Grifoni also asked why nearly 75% of the noise calls were unverified.
"There (are) times (when) we will get a call, and there may have been noise when the caller called in but by the time we got there was no noise," Frazzano said. "Or we get there and it just didn't meet the standards for a violation of the ordinance."
Grifoni said the noise ordinance should not be "weaponized" by people, for example, who make noise complaints because they oppose the use of a home for short-term rentals.
"There are people who have real, legitimate noise complaints," Grifoni said. "We want to make sure our resources are used appropriately," he said.
Babrowski requested Frazzano break down the unverified noise complaints by source type and bring back the information at a future meeting before council decides whether to amend the noise ordinance.
Resident Linda Goslee thanked Frazzano because she said she is receiving more courteous responses from police officers when she calls to make a noise complaint compared to a year ago.
"I think STRs (short-term rentals) are also a reason this is increasing," Goslee said.
Resident Christine Dowell, who spoke via phone call, asked what the city will do about repeat offenders.
"There is a problem on the island," Dowell said.
Resident Kathy McAdam said she has called the police about kids screaming in a short-term rental next door. She also spoke via phone call to the council.
"I don't know what else to do about it," McAdam said.
Mark Morze, property manager with iTrip Vacations, said he installed a noise detection system that monitors noise inside and outside home rentals. If the noise "reaches a certain threshold for a sustained period of time," the system alerts him via text message, he said last year.
"We encourage the neighbors to reach out to us before they reach out for the cops because I think it is a waste of time for (the cops) to have to do that," Morze said.
Morze said a resident recently yelled expletives in the presence of two little boys who were playing in a pool before 8 p.m. in one of the short-term rentals he administers. Morze said the resident mentioned he had a gun.
"They felt threatened and stayed inside the home for the rest of the night," Morze said.