Noise Study by St Augustine Livability & Sustainability Alliance

275-SALSA-LOGOAs the City has become a much more popular tourist destination, the added frequency and combinations of noise sources has placed an overwhelming burden on residents – more and louder live music at bars and restaurants, more trolley loud speakers, more noisy early morning truck deliveries, street sweeping, etc., more canon firings (onshore and off) and more small arms fire, more loud music and amplified speaking events at Francis Field, an un-muffled bi-plane flying overhead, more improperly muffled cars and motorcycles, etc. It’s too much.

We need to step back and reach a balance. We are not an amusement park. The City of St. Augustine is a very special place in the history of the world. It deserves to be respected, protected and honored as such. We need to reach a new level of noise civility which is going to require toning things down across the board which will enhance the overall resident and tourist experience with little/no significant economic downside.

Below, please note that we begin by evaluating and suggesting changes to the current noise ordinance (NO), and then suggest changing over wherever possible to a ‘plainly audible’ standard which is much simpler to monitor and enforce.

Most importantly, we are trying to be balanced and reasonable in our assessment of the problems and their solutions. We may not have all the answers. We welcome other suggestions for helping us all to be able to live in a quieter small town.

Submitted by Richard Bozung


SALSA – SUMMARY of NOISE SOURCES and their MITIGATION

(Applicable City Code or State Statue in italics)

  1. LOUD NOISE from most FIXED SOURCES

(bars, restaurants, weddings, parties, special events, Francis Field, etc.)

Problem – Some of the above cranking up the music at all hours of the day and into the night. Commercial sources sometimes elevating the noise level in order to attract attention and compete with music from a nearby neighbor. Not issuing complaints against each other. Nearby residents tired of complaining and have effectively given up. Persons in public spaces nearest offender have no right to lodge a complaint and are being barraged by increasing levels of loud music.

MITIGATION – Partially covered in NO but operates on citizen complaint basis instead of a combination of citizen complaint and pro-active police enforcement. For suspect violators, police must be given resources to go to the nearest private/commercial spaces to the noise source on their own initiative and enforce the NO if a violation is occurring. Additionally, transient commercial sleeping quarters should have the same protections as residential quarters.

An option would be to interpret or change the NO to apply to readings taken at the nearest point of public right-of-way to the noise source. The receiving property line would then be interpreted as any public right-of-way (including waterways within the city limits – see “Any area not otherwise classified shall conform to commercial standards.” below). Also, the allowed decibel levels need to be re-evaluated and possibly lowered.

Classification of use occupancies. For the purpose of defining the “use occupancy,” all premises containing habitually occupied sleeping quarters shall be considered in residential use. All premises containing transient commercial sleeping quarters shall be considered commercial use. All premises containing business where sales, professional or another commercial use is legally permitted shall be considered commercial use. All premises where manufacturing is legally permitted shall be considered manufacturing use. In case of a multiple use, the more restrictive use category shall prevail. Hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries and church uses shall be considered residential uses. Any area not otherwise classified shall conform to commercial standards.

No person shall cause, suffer, allow, or permit the operation of any source of sound in such a manner as to create a sound level that exceeds the sound level limits listed in table 1 when measured at or within the receiving property line.

Table 1. Receiving Land Use

Residential, noise sensitive, commercial facilities used for human habitation Non-residential
Weekdays 7:00 a.m.—10:00 p.m. Weeknights 10:00 p.m.—7:00 a.m.
Friday, Saturday and Holidays Friday, Saturday and Holidays

Zoning district 7:00 a.m.—11:00 p.m. 11:00 p.m.—7:00 a.m. 24 hours
Residential and HP-1 60 55 65
Commercial 65 60 65
Industrial 75 75 75
HP-2, 3, 4 and 5 65 60 65

These limits may not be exceeded by any single incident representing the normal, usual operation of the sound source, during any three sampling intervals, the duration of which shall be no less than one-half minute, within any one-hour period.

Or;

ALTERNATIVE – No plainly audible sound at 100 ft from source property line enforceable by police with or without citizen complaint (anyone can complain, not just property owners).

  1. “Plainly Audible” means sounds or noise which can be measured or detected by the human ear without the benefit of a hearing aid by a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.
  2. “Sound” means something that can be heard; audible.

Why 100 feet? Reasonable since we already have a standard of 50 feet in the case of mobile sounds (see next section).

EXCEPTIONS – Special Events, Francis Field, etc. (plainly audible standard may not work here)

Slightly higher decibel readings (70 db at 100 ft from event boundary) allowed by special permit. Monitored by police (event fees to cover sound monitoring). No sound after 10 pm. Limited number of events allowed/year.

  1. LOUD MUSIC and AMPLIFIED VOICES from MOVING SOURCES (cars, trolleys, ghost tours, etc.)

Problem – Some trolley drivers have speakers turned up much too high. Even when at reasonable levels, the non-stop talking all over downtown is a nuisance to residents and tourists alike. Vehicles driving through town with windows down and stereo cranked up. Trolley shouting matches, mostly during Nights of Lights (not music and not amplified), are a special case where there is no apparent NO regulation.

MITIGATION – partially covered in NO, except, operates on citizen complaint basis instead of a combination of citizen complaint and pro-active police enforcement. For suspect violations, police must be given resources to enforce NO if a violation is occurring. NO does not cover amplified voices, just music (which makes no sense at all). In addition, a comprehensive analysis should be undertaken by the Trolley companies and overseen by the city on shifting to wireless or facsimile systems.

Code change – under personal or commercial vehicular music amplification equipment, change the word music to sound. Change will cover trolley speakers to include talking (not just amplified music). Also change to cover shouting which is not amplified.

Mobile amplified sound reproduction devices.

Personal or commercial vehicular music amplification equipment shall not be operated in such a manner as to be plainly audible at a distance of fifty (50) feet in any direction from the operator between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Personal or commercial vehicular music amplification or reproduction equipment shall not be operated in such a manner that it is plainly audible at a distance of twenty-five (25) feet between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

Self-contained, portable, hand-held music or sound amplification or reproduction equipment shall not be operated on a public space or public right-of-way in such a manner as to be plainly audible at a distance of fifty (50) feet in any direction from the operator between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., sound from such equipment shall not be plainly audible by any person other than the operator.

Note: the language above is intended to place restrictions on the amount of noise permitted on/near public rights-of-way and affecting the general public. It is much more restrictive than the limits imposed in Table 1. It establishes a precedent for protecting the general public from extreme noise, which can in turn be applied to impulse firings over public waterways and loud music from commercial locations fronting on public rights-of-way.

Or;

ALTERNATIVE – no plainly audible sound at 50 ft from the noise source enforceable by police with or without citizen complaint (to cover shouting).

And;

All trolleys switch over to wireless headset or facsimile systems.

  1. LOUD NOISE emanating from the operation of MOTOR VEHICLES (trucks, cars, motorcycles, scooters, etc.)

Problem – obvious. (This may prove difficult to enforce. Will need thorough evaluation by the police dept.)

MITIGATION – enforcement of state law which is summarized below. Consider an enforcement strategy somewhat like that used to enforce seat belt laws – short duration wide coverage for several periods of time during the year? Pick strategic routes with decibel monitoring at one location and interdiction at another, on a short term basis.

FSS 316.293 – motorcycles under 35 mph – 78 decibel @ 50 ft; all other vehicles under 35 mph – 72 decibel @ 50 ft. Also, no modified muffler emitting sound greater than the original standard equipment (this seems difficult to ascertain and enforce).

  1. LOUD NOISE emanating from VESSELS

Problem – Air boats, cigarette boats, etc. In the case of gunfire/canon firings from vessels please see item 5 below. Yes, difficult to enforce but may become necessary at some time.

MITIGATION – codify and enforce State Law below:

FSS 327.65. No person shall operate or give permission for the operation of any vessel on the waters of any county or on a specified portion of the waters of any county, including the Florida Intracoastal Waterway, which has adopted the provisions of this section in such a manner as to exceed the following sound levels at a distance of 50 feet from the vessel: for all vessels, a maximum sound level of 90 decibel A.

  1. LOUD IMPULSIVE SOUNDS such as CANON FIRINGS & SMALL ARMS FIRE

(Fountain of Youth, Fort, Colonial Quarter, re-enactments, boat firings, etc.)

Problem – The shock affect and noise level has dramatic impacts on the people living here, pets and wildlife and on a frequent basis. Boaters frequent the areas in direct line of fire of all the canons (land and boat based) and have a perfect right to be there. The wildlife impact is worst in the marsh which the FOY is firing over point blank and less on the sandbar at low tide just north of the Fort. We know of children who refuse to go anywhere near the Fort because of the canon firings, not to mention the pets who are terrified by these large impulse sounds. These activities rarely occurred historically, and yet we, the residents, are subjected to them on a daily basis. The city limits include the waterways directly in the line of fire of all these sources and it is the responsibility of the city to protect the public from loud impulsive sounds when using this public space. It seems ludicrous that those firing have the right to ask people to leave the area when they are getting ready to fire over a public right-of-way. That would be like someone living across from Francis Field setting up a small canon and asking everyone to leave the field and stop driving on Castillo while they indulge in their fancy.

MITIGATION – Appeal to the goodwill of those engaged in this activity to curtail or modify the activity out of respect to residents, boaters, pets and wildlife. Encourage the voluntary use of minimal noise technologies; for example a flash, a puff of smoke, and very little noise.

If the above is unsuccessful, change NO eliminating 10 decibel higher limit and have the police monitor the sound level at the nearest points of private property, be it a house, commercial establishment, dock, moored boat, etc., and change NO to include regulation of any firing over a public access waterway within the city limits, ie, monitoring at the nearest point of public access to the sound source.

Between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., impulsive sounds which occur less than ten (10) times in an hour shall not equal or exceed ten (10) decibels above the permissible sound level limits in table 1. Impulsive sound which repeats ten (10) or more times in any hour shall not exceed the permissible sound level limits in table 1.

Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., impulsive sounds which occur less than four (4) times in an hour shall not equal or exceed ten (10) decibels above the permissible sound level limits in table 1. Impulsive sound which repeats four (4) or more times in any hour shall not exceed the permissible sound level limits in table 1.

Or;

ALTERNATIVES – not to exceed 60 decibel at 100 ft from noise source property line (or source in the case of a boat).

Or;

Firings by special use permit only. (e.g. on same days as other gunfire related re-enactments)

  1. FIREWORKS DISPLAYS

Problem – This has drastic impacts on the people living here, pets and wildlife but only once a year. Special event permit waves NO. 4th of July a popular event, though it stresses our traffic and parking and requires many costly extra city services.

MITIGATION – Investigate fireworks companies who are now producing low noise fireworks.

  1. AIRCRAFT OVERFLIGHTS

Problem – We have a bi-plane operator who is not just taking off to fly to or return from some other destination, but who is circling around with an un-muffled engine, especially at sunset when the noise of the city has diminished and it’s nice to go outside and listen to the music of the birds. We also have a variety of other aircraft flying directly overhead at low elevation. The City has no jurisdiction in this area. However, in response to a growing outcry from other communities throughout the country, in 2004 the FAA issued AC No: 91-36D which advised all aircraft to voluntarily fly at 2000 ft (instead of 1000 ft) over noise-sensitive areas to include “residential, educational, cultural and historic sites”.

MITIGATION – City Commission resolution to bi-plane operator to please abide by the advisory (so far he has refused) and a request to the Airport Authority to make advisory known to all aircraft flying over St Augustine.

  1. NOISEY PARTYING/ROWDY BEHAVIOR

Seems to be well covered in the NO and State disturbing the peace statutes. Residents just need to be made more aware of their right to complain anonymously via the city web presence concerning our Quiet Cities Initiative.

MITIGATION – Change the bar closing time to 11 pm on weekdays and 12 pm on weekends will help in this regard.

  1. OTHER

BARKING DOGS, IDILING BUSES, LOUD MACHINES, POWER TOOLS, LEAF BLOWERS, MOTOR VEHICLE ALARMS, etc.,

Seems to be well covered in the NO. Residents just need to be made more aware of their responsibilities and rights via the city web presence concerning the Quiet Cities Initiative. For example, if someone is adjacent to a residence where an extremely noisy leaf blower is being used, they have every right to call the police who in turn can take a sound level reading and issue a citation if the sound level exceeds the limits specified in Table 1.

MITIGATION – For example, the web page could include sources to investigate for commercial and private users to get information on lower noise producing leaf blowers.

Operating or permitting the operation of any mechanically powered saw, drill, grinder, lawn or garden tool, or similar tool between 9:00 p.m. or sunset, whichever is earlier, and 7:00 a.m. the following day on weekdays, or 9:00 p.m. or sunset, whichever is earlier, and 8:00 a.m. on weekends and holidays, unless such equipment is operated inside a building or other structure so that the sound therefrom does not travel across any residential real property line or sensitive zone and exceed the levels set forth in table 1. All such equipment shall be properly muffled and maintained in working order so as not to create excessive and unnecessary noise.

Or, in the case of LOUD MACHINES, POWER TOOLS, LEAF BLOWERS, etc.;

ALTERNATIVE – not to exceed 60 decibel at 100 ft from noise source.

EARLY MORNING TRASH, DELIVERY TRUCKS, STREET SWEEPING, etc. NOISE

Excessive noise very early in the morning from trash, delivery and other trucks is a problem and does not seem to be covered in the NO.

MITIGATION – NO may have to be amended to prohibit such activities from occurring between 7 pm and 7 am each day.

Or;

ALTERNATIVE – not to exceed 60 decibel at 100 ft from noise source.

SUMMARY of RECOMMENDATIONS

With St. Augustine’s new found overwhelming popularity, noise issues have become a serious problem, to both residents and tourists alike. St Augustine is a living city, not an amusement park. Things have gotten out of hand and it is time to take effective action. The economic impact of all of the mitigation strategies on businesses discussed earlier are relatively insignificant.

Designate a Noise Control Officer (may have other ancillary duties) with short term task of putting together a comprehensive noise control program after reviewing all applicable local, state and federal laws, to include:

Create a simple brochure (web presence as well) in simple language on the Noise Ordinance for businesses and residents (including ways for businesses and the public to monitor noise levels with a smart phone). Gather baseline data, develop a comprehensive strategy, educate businesses, identify nearest inhabited dwelling/business to problem sites for sound monitoring, etc. Develop a plan for proactive police enforcement of the Noise Ordinance without relying solely on citizen complaint. Acquire more and smaller sound meters for police and certify more officers. Conduct random checks on bars, weddings, trains, Francis Field events, canon firings, etc. Establish a small citizen’s advisory committee to work with the city on developing a comprehensive strategy.

MAJOR CHANGE/RE-INTERPRETATION – Amend/interpret the NOISE ORDINANCE (NO) in general to protect the public from loud noise while on public rights-of-way (including waterways), not just at the nearest private property line. Initiate proactive police enforcement of the Noise Ordinance without relying exclusively on citizen complaint. Switch over to a plainly audible standard wherever possible.

Additionally;

Investigate the use of Bed Tax funds to pay for the increased city costs to manage noise, since most noise is tourism related, and reductions enhance the overall tourist experience. If not permitted, lobby the State Legislature to change the law which as currently written, is not sustainable. There will come a point in time when the sheer volume of tourists will turn St Augustine into just another cheap partying destination and amusement park. Suggest you GOOGLE SEARCH the following: “Barcelona Spain overrun with tourists” and read a couple of the articles.

Include in next year’s City wide quality of life survey a comprehensive section on citizen concerns about noise.

____________________________________________________________

From the St. Johns County Noise Ordinance (similar to the Miami Beach Noise Ordinance)

Section 3. Measurement of Sound

The measurement of sound or noise under this Ordinance shall be “plainly audible” by a human ear without the benefit of a hearing aid by a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities. This Ordinance shall be in effect within the unincorporated areas of St. Johns County, Florida. Further, this Ordinance shall be measured and enforceable by the law enforcement agency or code compliance office which takes the complaint, including the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office, the Division of Animal Control, and Code Enforcement.

From the City of Miami Beach, City Code Article IV. – NOISE – same standard as above – ‘plainly audible’

Sec.46-152. Noises; unnecessary and excessive prohibited.

(i)  Noises to attract attention. The use of any drum, loudspeaker or other instrument or device for the purpose of attracting attention by creation of any unreasonably loud or unnecessary noise to any performance, show, sale, display or advertisement of merchandise.

(ii) Shouting. Any unreasonably loud, boisterous or raucous shouting in any residential area. (Add commercial as well).

Comments