Noise Dispute Still Undecided

A lawsuit filed by Florida’s Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission against Tampa’s 20,000-capacity Ford Amphitheatre and venue owner Clear Channel Entertainment over noise issues was still pending at press time.

The suit – which also involves the Florida State Fair Authority – was filed in December after the EPC received more than 170 noise complaints from neighbors, according to the St. Petersburg Times. It seeks to halt concerts at the $23 million shed until the matter is resolved.

In court February 25th, Judge Gregory Holder considered two motions from Clear Channel and the Fair authority as they tried to persuade him to throw out the EPC’s suit, according to the Times.

Clear Channel argued that the ordinance is too vague when it prohibits noise that is “annoying” and “unreasonably interferes with the enjoyment of life, property or outdoor recreation of a reasonable person with normal sensitivities.” The judge agreed, saying those portions of the rule were “unconstitutionally vague.”

Clear Channel attorney Donovan Conwell also argued that what the EPC calls “noise” is actually constitutionally protected free speech. But EPC attorney Mark Bentley disagreed, saying the noise rules do not regulate content and therefore don’t violate free speech, according to the Times.

In a separate motion, State Fair Authority attorney Gordon Schiff reportedly argued that the EPC cannot sue the organization because county government cannot regulate an “instrument of the state.” The authority was created by the Legislature, he added.

Apparently, the judge was convinced that only a state agency can impose sanctions on the Fair Authority. Bentley, however, argued that Clear Channel was obligated to abide by local rules and regulations – including noise ordinances – when it signed an agreement with the authority, the paper said.

The following day, EPC attorneys reportedly offered testimony from residents living near the amphitheatre and experts who said Clear Channel repeatedly violated the noise decibel limit. Gary Siebein, a University of Florida architecture professor who specializes in acoustics, also testified that several steps could be taken to lessen the noise at the venue.

In his cross-examination of the professor, Conwell sought to establish that the county’s noise ordinance is applied inconsistently because it allows Ybor City, Fla., venues to play music at higher decibel levels than the Ford Amphitheatre, the Times said.

“All across this county people violate the noise ordinance, yet we are being targeted,” Conwell said. “(In) Ybor City, we see special treatment. Music can be played until 3 a.m. while the amphitheatre cannot exceed 55 decibels after 10 p.m.”

He added that the EPC had no authority to issue citations to Clear Channel, which he contends has the same immunity as the Florida State Fair Authority.

The hearing was expected to continue March 7th.