Correction, 8/19/21: A previous post stated that the noise ordinance would be voted on a second time. The vote is final. The Gabber apologizes for the error.
Motivated by the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, Gulfport City Council streamed the August, July 17 meeting via Zoom and allowed “at home” public comment for the first time in months. The most heated topic was Gulfport’s noise ordinance, which was revisited after a month-long trial period that raised the decibel level, but cut noise off an hour earlier than the city’s in-place ordinance.
Housekeeping, event approval and COVID-19 discussions followed with significantly less debate. The city also presented the Spirit of Gulfport Award to Jax Taylor of Jax In and Out for service to the community.
“I am honored, very honored,” Taylor said.
With a high of 14 “Zoomers” watching from screens elsewhere, the council decided to continue virtual participation at future meetings for now.
No Change on Noise Ordinance
Music coming from Gulfport bars and restaurants, namely in the city’s waterfront district, has created conflict between business owners and nearby residents who say they are tired of the noise at night.
After months of discussion and public input at council, as well as a trial period for a possible compromise on downtown noise levels, council voted to keep the existing noise level ordinance at a maximum of 65 decibels, dropping to 55 at 11 p.m.
“The noise is too loud; I don’t care about your meters,” the first speaker, an unidentified resident near the North End Taphouse, said to council. “You guys are bullies. I’m walking the dog six blocks away and I can hear the damn music.”
“The courtyard now is more vibrant, more busy than ever,” said Barbara Banno, owner of Stella’s in the Village Courtyard. “It’s a focal point that wasn’t there before. I don’t like the courtyard being singled out because of the music. I can guarantee if you go to any of those other locations, the music will be over that 65 decibel.”
As part of a 30-day trial period that started June 16, local live music venues, such as the North End Taphouse and Eddies, formerly Salty’s, were allowed a maximum noise of 75 decibels for most of the day, with a drop to 55 after 10 p.m.
“We’re not opposed to doing things at the Taphouse to make it better,” said co-owner Kelly Wright. “But if you’re a performer, you don’t play consistently at 65 decibels. I have kept that meter as close to 65 as possible but then I need to take people off the stage or tell them to stop playing.”
Public opinion on the issue appeared to be a nearly 50/50 split at Tuesday’s meeting. The discussion ended with council voting against a noise ordinance change in a 3-2 vote. Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson and Councilmember Michael Fridovich voted yes to raise accepted decibel levels, as was permitted during the 30-day trial.
“We love the music, we love Gulfport, we just don’t need it to be louder,” resident Liz Robertson said. “If we do decide to have a monitor, I would really strongly suggest it not be someone employed by the business…My final point is to you Mayor Sam: I would like to suggest to you that you’re not impartial to this matter and that you recuse yourself.”
“I don’t have a financial interest in that business,” said Henderson, who is also a musician and has played at the North End Taphouse. “If I had to recuse myself on every vote that ever happened just because I had a relationship with owners, I wouldn’t vote on anything.”
Councilmembers April Thanos and Christine Brown discussed looking into third-party noise monitors and speaker adjustments to quell some of the lingering issues.
Editor’s Note: It’s come to our attention that some residents believe that the owners of the North End Taphouse are the landlords of the Gabber’s office, also in the courtyard. They are not, and the Gabber has no stake in the noise ordinance issue. If that were the case we would include a disclaimer in our coverage.
Utility Fees and Housekeeping
After a 15-minute intermission following the noise ordinance vote, attendance in the room dwindled by more than half.
Council went on to unanimously approve a contract with Miller Pipeline, LLC for the relining of 580 feet of gravity sewer line on Gulfport Boulevard.
Ordinances approving the firefighters’ retirement pension funds and the police officers’ city benefits were approved. Resolutions authorizing city employees health insurance with Florida Blue for the 2021-22 fiscal year as well as life insurance were also approved without comment.
A second and final reading of an ordinance that would eliminate the current $3.25 card fee for online and in-person utility payments passed in a 4-1 vote.
“This basically eliminates the current convenience fee for credit card transactions made online or in person. It does maintain existing telephone charges,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
Thanos was the sole dissenting vote.
“If the goal of this is to save staff time, I think if people come and pay in person that takes as much time as a phone call,” said Thanos.
Thanos went on to explain that she would like to see more research into the numbers of people who pay by phone versus in-person services.
Both the VETSports Heroes Weekend and Juneteenth were approved for next year. The beach volleyball tournament in Gulfport is set for November 6-7. Juneteenth will be recognized as an official city holiday on June 19, aligned with the recently recognized national public holiday.
Henderson noted his hope that the Gulfport Kiwanis Club, which hosted a celebration at the Gulfport Rec Center this year, would repeat the event.
“I am terribly thankful to live in a city that recognizes Juneteenth; it’s about time,” resident Karen Love commented via Zoom.
Council’s Weighs What to Do About COVID Numbers
Hamstrung by Governor Ron DeSantis’ May 3 executive order banning mask mandates by local governments, council discussed the issue in conjunction with the surge of COVID-19 cases in Pinellas.
“I just want to comment on the people here today, over half did have masks on, but that means half did not. This is a fairly crowded space,” said Thanos. “We could close the Casino..the Senior Center..the Rec Center. I’m not saying we should do that right now, but those are things we could do. At what point should we look at doing that?”
Henderson and O’Reilly went on to encourage more vaccines and mask wearing, and discussed the city’s inability to require Gulfport Police to wear masks due to the executive order.
“We’re pretty limited on what we can do,” O’Reilly said.
Thanos noted that at an August 7 pop-up vaccine clinic at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, only 15 people showed up for COVID-19 shots.