Music in Indian Rocks Beach Won't Be Unplugged

12/09/09 Caroline Cziesla
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

The best way to get residents to attend your next city government meeting might be to put an ordinance on the agenda that will ban amplified music at all commercial establishments. It worked last night for the city of Indian Rocks Beach.

Over 200 people showed up to take a stand on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit outdoor amplified music for commercial purposes. Those opposed to the ban waved their “Save the Music” signs and expressed their emotions loudly. Mayor R.B. Johnson was often pounding his gavel trying to regain control.

“Please, please, listen. I’m not going to say it again. We’re trying to treat everybody equally here and were going to have a nice, quiet, orderly meeting here and I’m not going to say it again. Or, we’re going to stop the meeting and were going to take even more time.”

The tug of war is between the residents on and off the beach that say they are forced to listen to the music, and the business owners who keep their establishments hopping by providing outside live entertainment.

For Peggy Beck, who lives at Shipwatch, a condo development east of the beach, having to endure the sounds of music isn’t what she expected when she moved to her Largo home.

“In newspapers, Indian Rocks Beach continues to be advertised as a quiet beach town. Back in April and again tonight, I am here with petitions signed by over 85 other people from Shipwatch to state that Indian Rocks Beach is definitely not a quiet beach town in our view. For us who live right across the intercoastal from your business district, where restaurants are allowed to play amplified live music that is broadcast into the open air and not within enclosed space, our peace and quiet is disturbed every single day; often from afternoon until ten o’clock at night - even on major religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter.”

Not all Indian Rocks Beach residents agreed there was a problem. Some said that banning amplified music contradicts the principals the comission recently adopted to enhance and improve the commercial areas of the city. They felt making this kind of change would be detrimental to businesses on the beach.

Vacation rental owner Karen Laufenburger didn’t want the change. She and her husband felt a ban would ultimately affect their livelihood.

“It is very important to us as it is to Indian Rocks Beach. This is part of the city. This is part of why we are here. This is part of why everybody comes here.”

Can you imagine a beach bar without ever playing Margaritaville again? And it’s not as easy as simply hiring acoustic musicians as some suggested. Even the one-man bands boost their sound with amplification.

Musician Cindy LaRosa works in Indian Rocks Beach. Her band, North 2 South, plays at JDs Restaurant every other weekend.

“We have locals, sometimes groups at a time of ten or more people, they’re coming in to see my band. I know we are not the only ones. There’s other entertainers all up and down this beach. But the people, the locals, the tourists, they get to know us. We befriend them. They are coming back over and over and over again to see our bands.”

LaRosa said she and her band are aware of the current 65-decibel level in force and are respectful of the residents around.

Patrons who live outside the city and frequent the businesses spoke as well. Fred Regina, from St. Petersburg, credits Indian Rocks Beach for all the recent good fortune he’s had in his life.

“I love the ambiance and the character and the camaraderie that I’ve found in the venues down there. I learned to dance. I love it. I met my wife at a dance studio and I’m getting married next week. It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the music to egg me on.”

Who would have thought the once sleepy Indian Rocks Beach would have this type of issue on its agenda? Mayor Johnson explained this is possibly because of the implication of smoking laws. The indoor smoking ban has moved performances outside.

It was clear the commission would have to make a difficult decision. However, without a motion on the proposed ordinance the decision couldn't be made last night.

City attorney Maura Kiefer said that the current noise ordinances are old and don’t include language commonly used in today’s codes.

Cindy Gawlowski said this is an ongoing problem with the city of Indian Rocks Beach. Six months ago residents of her condo community were able to get the Crabby Bills restaurant to make some positive changes. Although...

“We’re still hearing the yahoo effect where people are screaming over the music. Part of the reason why we were here tonight is because we were hoping that if they would ban the outside music with the amplifier then it would tone down the level of the crowd.”

Commissioner Phil Hanna requested that in the spirit of working together, business owners and bands be mindful of their neighbors and perhaps reduce the sound while a long-term plan is being established.

At the moment, live music won’t be un-plugged on Indian Rocks Beach. A workshop will be scheduled in early January for residents, business owners, and even patrons to reach a compromise.

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