UPDATED: Lake Worth's Noise Complaints Won't Fall on Deaf Ears

It all started when owners of a French restaurant decided the noise from a bar next door was causing customer indigestion.

They politely -- well, as politely as the French can -- asked their neighbors to turn it down during the dinner hour. The open-air bar told the French to go fiche themselves. And thus began the war over noise levels in downtown Lake Worth.

This week, after fielding ear-splitting complaints from some downtown residents and booming retorts from local businesses, the City Commission appointed a task force to look into the issue and decide how loud is too loud. 

The task force, made up of five business owners and two residents, will meet for the next four weeks (the first meeting is February 22 at noon at City Hall) to decide whether local bars will be asked to turn it down, and if so, on what days and at what time. They'll also figure out whether to use noise meters to measure decibel levels. At least if they can think clearly with the two sides shouting in their ears.

Former Mayor Jeff Clemens and the Lake Worth City Commission took a walking tour last year with one of those meters in hand. Their fact-finding mission generated more noise, in the form of outraged blog posts, than any thrash-metal concert. Business owners and some residents were apoplectic over the idea. They accused commissioners of wanting to shut down a struggling entertainment district. Even worse, there was some talk of regulating noise not just outside but inside the bars, since noise levels above 95 decibels may cause hearing damage. More evidence of the nanny state at work!

Using noise meters would seem like a no-brainer. A meter would appear to be a lot more objective than asking some cop, who may be no fan of hip-hop or Irish folk tunes, to judge when loud is too loud. But Andy Amoroso, who owns Amoroso's Books and Gifts and who is one of five business owners on the task force, says meters open up legal loopholes. "A bar in Delray successfully argued in court that a meter was not used properly," Amoroso says. "Apparently they require training like a radar gun. You have to learn how to point it and where to take the readings. Delray lost their case."

"Personally, I think the noise wouldn't be an issue if people had just learned to play nice with each other," Amoroso says. "If you move into an entertainment district, you should expect it to be a little bit noisier. On the other hand, the ordinance needs to be enforced fairly. Our old ordinance regulates noise defined as 'loud and raucous.' That's too open to interpretation. We need something that we can apply objectively across the board."

Commissioner Cara Jennings agrees. "Lake Worth needs a well thought out Noise Ordinance that mitigates the impacts of the noise coming from our Downtown entertainment district on
the adjacent residential neighborhoods," Jennings told the Juice by email.  "We want to keep our downtown vibrant with live music while respecting the rights of residents to quiet enjoyment of their homes."

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd