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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
Politics

SoHo bars, residents can co-exist, Tampa councilman says

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— Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen says he plans to spend the summer trying to find common ground between the bars along South Howard Avenue and the nearby residents who complain about the profusion of late-night noise and traffic along the street.

Cohen said he met with a group of SoHo and Hyde Park business owners Wednesday.

“The business owners have indicated they want to work toward cooperative solutions,” he said.

Cohen said he will do some research in SoHo, including ride-alongs with local police, to get a better feel for what goes on there on the weekends.

The councilman’s attempt at compromise is the latest effort to resolve a running dispute between residents of the SoHo corridor and the strip’s booming bar scene. The relationship has grown more contentious as Tampa City Council has continued to approve new alcohol permits for bars and restaurants in the area between West Kennedy and Bayshore boulevards.

Today, more than two dozen bars and restaurants along South Howard serve alcohol, drawing night-time bar hoppers from across the region. Many of those places sit cheek-by-jowl with houses, condos or townhouses.

Adam Smith and JuliaMarie von Maltzahn live in a home that overlooks World of Beer at South Howard and West Azeele. They arrived in 2012, about a year after World of Beer opened on the site of a former Mexican restaurant.

The couple and the bar staff have had an up-and-down relationship over sound coming from the bar’s sound system and outdoor stage.

Last week, Smith presented Cohen and Maj. Paul Driscoll, head of the Tampa Police Department district that includes SoHo, with a petition signed by 92 SoHo-area residents accusing bar owners of showing “disregard of the law” for letting their businesses become night-time nuisances to nearby residents.

Smith collected signatures from Parkland Estates, Hyde Park and from his neighborhood, Courier City/Oscawana, which is bisected by South Howard north of Swann Avenue.

In an email to Cohen on Wednesday afternoon, Smith said he held off submitting the petition because police had been more aggressive about getting bar operators to turn down the sound at night. But then the World of Beer filed suit last week to block the city from enforcing its noise ordinance in SoHo.

“(W)ith this new lawsuit many of the residents are worried,” Smith wrote to Cohen.

The lawsuit, filed on World of Beer’s behalf by attorney Mark Bentley, challenges the city’s ability to regulate noise outside specific neighborhoods spelled out in noise rules enforced by the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission.

Bentley filed a separate noise challenge in March on his own behalf but withdrew it about a month later.

Smith said his own sound meter shows the noise from World of Beer has pushed decibel levels inside his house to levels that would violate city standards if measured outside. In one case, Smith said, the sound went as high as 92 decibels — the equivalent of truck traffic rumbling past.

“In going door-to-door, I heard of horror stories of people who have given up leaving their windows open at night for the past three years because of the noise,” Smith said.

Smith has been emailing Cohen since December with his complaints about noise. In recent months, Smith said, Tampa police have begun forcing World of Beer to turn things down by using the “plainly audible from 100 feet” standard written into the city code last year.

That standard earned World of Beer three citations earlier this year and prompted this month’s lawsuit.

World of Beer area product manager Mike Hass, interviewed before the business sued the city, said it the company switched to acoustic music outside during the evening to avoid violating the noise ordinance and to get along better with its neighbors.

Smith said he wants to reach a point where everyone can get along.

“I do not expect everything to be dead silent because that’s just absurd living in a neighborhood with a lot of bars,” Smith said. “However, I also expect that bar owners will understand that they’ve moved into a residential community. Everyone needs to learn to get along.”

kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7871

Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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