In their second meeting back at Gulfport City Hall on May 18, council saw a return to pre-covid days as the majority of attendees went without masks for the first time since in-person meetings resumed late last year. Council punctuated this change with a 3-2 vote to end Zoom as a means of virtually attending the meeting, before discussing budget issues for the upcoming year and continuing the ongoing debate over the Village Courtyard noise complaints.
Residents Come Out in Support of the North End Taphouse
After nearly two months of public back and forth between the owners of the North End Taphouse and local residents complaining about the noise caused by performers there, a half-dozen local residents came to speak in favor of the Taphouse during this week’s public comment.
“Except for Cinco de Mayo, which obviously is an exception, I’ve never heard any music from the North End Taphouse in my house, and honestly, I think that was Sea Dogs’ event that I heard inside,” said David Hand, who lives near both establishments. “I can hear them outside, but whenever I go inside and shut my doors, it’s perfectly fine.”
This sentiment was echoed by several other residents, like Lindsey Miller, who lives caddy-corner to the Taphouse.
“I do notice that some of my neighbors have some of their windows open more often than I do; maybe they’re hearing the music a little bit louder because of that, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a disturbance,” Miller said.
Kelly Wright and Houston Gilbreath, co-owners of the Taphouse, also spoke during the meeting, with Wright explaining that she had spoken with many of the local neighbors, and that all were in favor of a revision of the local noise ordinance. She also presented a document with 200 signatures supporting that revision.
Gilbreath asked for an increase in the decibel limit outlined in the noise ordinance, and spoke about the financial burdens the Taphouse had taken on to control the noise, including not booking acts that were too loud – “despite their immense popularity and the revenue it generates for us” – ending music at 10 p.m., and even talking with acoustic engineers about possibly purchasing “acoustic dampening materials.”
“The main complainants have shown no willingness to meet with us to discuss if these measures would be suitable… It is our belief that these complaints are less about the noise level and more about musical preferences, and they are using city ordinances… as a means to impose their will upon our business and the experience of our guests,” Gibreath said.
Joe Culbertson, owner of the Village Courtyard where the Taphouse operates, echoed this last point specifically, claiming complainants had “weaponized the city ordinance” for music they don’t enjoy, but that “these same individuals will also call the Taphouse and request that the same music be turned up if they like a certain genre.”
At the last meeting on May 4, Councilmember Christine Brown requested, and council approved, a moratorium on the noise ordinance so she could try to set up a meeting between the two sides to negotiate a solution. After public comment, Brown reported that the main complaining resident declined the offer to meet, but said she felt “positive about the work that the business and property owners are doing.”
Mayor Sam Henderson agreed, stating that this issue was particularly personal for him since he’s performed at the Taphouse’s stage, and had noise complaints leveled against his band by a resident.
“It’s a tough one for me, because my heart’s in it,” Henderson said.
Council agreed to extend the moratorium for another two weeks, and will likely make a decision on the ordinance at the June 1 city council meeting.
Council Looks Ahead as Pandemic Restrictions Loosen
As vaccination numbers increase, council continues to make adjustments to a “post-COVID” Gulfport, including a vote to stop allowing residents to call in to comment over Zoom at council meetings. Vice Mayor April Thanos and Councilmember Paul Ray voted to continue using Zoom, while Mayor Sam Henderson and Councilmembers Brown and Michael Fridovich voted to stop.
“With the number of people that have been vaccinated, I think now the responsibility is to get yourself back to the meeting if public comment is important to you,” Henderson said.
With no resolutions or ordinances up for vote at the meeting, council spent a good amount of time discussing budgetary planning for the upcoming year, beginning with a presentation by David Alvarez of the city’s audit for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Thanks to COVID-19, general revenues for the city were $800,000 below budget, but “something that the city can be proud of [is that] expenditures actually came in $1.1 million under” budget, meaning the city was able to adapt without going into debt, Alvarez said.
After the audit, City Manager Jim O’Reilly led a discussion on budget planning for the coming year, advising that the city stay fairly conservative in their spending this year since the economy is still uncertain, and to give the city space to increase wages as required by the recent minimum wage hike approved by Florida voters last November.
Thanos asked if there were any updates to the breakwater park planned for the Gulfport Marina, and O’Reilly responded that there were none, as the city is waiting to see if Governor Ron Desantis will include their request for funding in his annual budget.
Thanos continued last week’s discussion on making it a city policy to prioritize electric vehicles over gas-powered ones when replacing city cars and trucks, an idea the council seems to favor, so long as the electric vehicles aren’t prohibitively expensive and can perform as well as the existing ones. The proposal will likely be brought to a vote at a future meeting.
Overheard at the May 18 Gulfport City Council Meeting
“I’ve been harping on garbage cans for two or three years now…. Our city has done a fantastic job of getting garbage cans at the beach; our city does a fantastic job of keeping our parks clean, and 22nd Avenue is a total embarrassment.” – Karen Love, requesting public garbage cans be added to 22nd Avenue (Gulfport Boulevard). In his closing comments, Mayor Sam Henderson requested, and council approved, adding six public garbage cans, three on each side of Gulfport Boulevard, between 49th and 58th Streets South.
“I just wanted to say that May 29th will be the Pride Flag raising at 4 p.m. I believe the band will be starting up at 3:30 down at the Rec Center and marching up to the flag raising. The LGBTQ Resource Center’s Art Out Exhibit also begins at 4, that runs until 6.” – Paul Ray, in his closing comments.
“The Lions Club is having a mobile pantry program, Feeding Tampa Bay, and they’re going to do it the fourth Thursday of every month… beginning this Thursday, May 27… from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. They’ll be handing out food, so if you want to find out more about the program, call the Lions Club; they’re out on Tifton Drive.” – Christine Brown, in her closing comments.