Delray's new noise rules upset restaurant owners

Delray Beach wants people to be quiet — all day, everyday.

But a group of restaurant owners who offer live entertainment beg to differ with the city.

The restaurateurs say Delray's noise ordinance is unreasonable. They say the fines are too steep and undermine a restaurant's ability to entertain patrons with live music.

"If you guys are like me, we got blindsided by the whole situation," said Deck 84 restaurant owner Burt Rapoport, at a meeting Friday with other restaurateurs. "All of us want to see a noise ordinance that is fair to the residents and fair to business owners."

In September, city officials raised noise violation fines to $1,000 per day for first-time offenders, $5,000 a day for second offenses and $15,000 a day for repeat offenders. Officials also made changes to how noise is measured – the clatter needs to be heard 50 feet away from the source, instead of the decibel reading the city previously used to cite violators.

Rapoport said he only found out about the new rules recently when a police officer showed up at his restaurant during the day to warn him that he was in violation of the ordinance.

In attendance at the meeting Friday were owners and managers of restaurants such as The Office, Hurricanes, Johnny Bown's, Kevro's Art Bar and Boston's on The Beach's Sandbar as well as representatives of the Downtown Development Authority, a taxing district in charge of promoting the downtown area.

"From our perspective, we worked so hard to create a night-time economy," said DDA Executive Director Marjorie Ferrer. "To kill the golden goose is ridiculous."

Rapoport said he created a petition he is circulating to other restaurant owners and his patrons, asking them to contact the City Commission and request the ordinance be modified. He encouraged other restaurants owners to do the same.

Tom McMurrain, owner of Boston's On the Beach Sandbar, said the group needs to come up with a alternate proposal the city can consider. The group agreed to try and round up every restaurant, cafe and bar owner in the downtown for a meeting Monday, where the group will begin researching policies that would make sense for business owners while protecting downtown residents from noise.

Delray Beach's new noise fines are among the highest in Palm Beach and Broward counties, where most noise violations range from $250 for first-time offenders to $500 for repeat ones.

The ordinance was crafted in response to a lawsuit the city lost against the owners of Paddy McGee's, who challenged a citation the restaurant received last year. The court ruled that the portion of the ordinance that prohibited "noise disturbances" was too vague and didn't give fair warning of when the law was being violated.

Commissioner Adam Frankel said the city modeled the new ordinance after Miami Beach's, which prohibits unreasonably loud, excessive or unnecessary noise and sounds that are plainly audible after 11 p.m. But Delray Beach's law applies to all hours of the day.

Frankel said he agreed to bring up the issue at the Tuesday's City Commission meeting.

Other cities have been successful in striking a balance between the interests of residents and those of business owners. In Fort Lauderdale, for example, there are basically two sets of noise rules. One is for the entertainment districts. The other rules are for the rest of the city.

Some in Delray are hoping to find a similar happy medium.

"We've promoted open and sidewalk cafes and night life for 15 years," said Ferrer. "We can't give that up now."

For more information about the meeting proposed for Monday, contact the DDA at 561-243-1077.

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