Two cops, a violinist, a restaurant owner, a customer, and a homeowner testified at a special code enforcement hearing Tuesday to decide whether the Patio Place in downtown Fernandina Beach violated the city’s noise ordinance in August with music so loud a neighbor called authorities to complain.
Owner Amy Petroy, 52, claimed she is being unfairly picked on and told the special magistrate through her attorney that other bars and restaurants, such as the Green Turtle, Palace Saloon, and Café Karibo, have amplified musical entertainment without a peep of protest from police.
Ms. Petroy said the music Aug. 9 was not excessively loud. But she did have the violinist, who played on the outdoor deck with her son, a guitar player, turn down the amp.
“I did,” she said.
In a twist, Ms. Petroy’s attorney Stephanie Nicole Jamieson of Yulee, who announced that she was working pro bono, moved away from the equity argument and claimed her client did not violate the noise ordinance because the music was heard—according to the civil violation filed by police—“in excess of 100 feet.” The city ordinance, she said, defines distance for noise to be excessive if it is heard “at 100 feet.”
There was a slight rumble from the sizeable audience in the commission chambers at City Hall where the hearing took place as people keyed in on Ms. Jamieson’s strategy to support her client: at 100 feet does not mean in excess of 100 feet.
While lay legal eagles may pooh-pooh such semantics and claim everyone knows the city meant any loud noise heard at a distance greater than 100 feet, it is right to say the ordinance, which the board updated in May to specifically define distance, does not say in excess of 100 feet. But it is the magistrate’s opinion that matters. And there may be cause for concern. The magistrate said she was going to make her decision based on the record and would apply “the ordinance as written.”
The magistrate said she’ll announce a decision soon. But Ms. Hill (a local attorney who applied to the city last year for such gigs and will be paid by taxpayers) said she did not have authority to decide whether the city’s noise ordinance is unconstitutional and denied that motion. Ms. Petroy has the option to take the case to circuit court, or even federal court if she wants to pursue constitutional issues, said Ms. Jamieson in a brief interview after the meeting. She said she would likely not represent Ms. Petroy should the case move forward.
Witness testimony basically went as expected:
The police officers (for the city) said the music was loud and they only respond to noise issues when people complain.
The neighbor (for the city) said the music was disturbing.
The violinist (for Ms. Petroy) said her speakers are small and she turned them down when Ms. Petroy asked her to do so.
The customer (for Ms. Petroy) said other bars and restaurants make noise too.
How about soundproofing – has that been considered? The question came from City Attorney Tammi Bach, who handled the hearing for the city.
Of course, said Ms. Petroy, who said she met with a soundproofing engineer and considered—and also dismissed—walls and plantings as options to pursue but too costly to employ.
Ms. Petroy said she stopped having musical entertainment altogether because the next violation would cost her $2,500. Neighbor Steven Carver, who filed the complaint, said it’s been “bliss” at his home since the music stopped.
Note The City posted the hearing on its public calendar online at www.fbfl.us but did not include the subject or topic. The city also clears the public calendar as the week and month move forward. To find events after the date has passed, the user must click on View All Events. If you don’t know or recall the date of an event, click on all the highlighted dates until you find the event you’re looking for.
The City Commission agreed to hire a Public Information Officer early this year for $42,000 to help improve communications. PIO Mary Hamburg attended the meeting. She sat with Main Street director Jeff Kurtz (who is leaving the job at the end of the week), Code Enforcement Officer Michelle Forstrom, and Planner Salvatore Cumella, who oversees the Historic District in the Community Development department. Ms. Hamburg also took photos at the hearing.