One downtown resident said he can't fall asleep until after 3 a.m. on weekends because of the music blaring from the outdoor bar below his condo. Others complained that sidewalk cafes take up too much of the sidewalk during special events.
But none of the small group of residents and business owners at a city meeting Wednesday night wants to see St. Petersburg's vibrant sidewalk restaurant scene choked out by overregulation.
"I'm very positive about the sidewalk cafes," said resident Hal Freedman. "We don't want to tighten up so much that we lose this wonderful ambiance we have downtown."
Several of the 17 people who attended the public input meeting at the St. Petersburg Sunshine Center on Fifth Street suggested city officials limit the hours bars can play loud music outside.
The City Council is gathering public comments on current sidewalk café regulations through meetings like the one Wednesday and another scheduled for Feb. 27.
Marion Lee, a longtime city resident and president of Downtown Residents Civic Association, said he remembers back in the '90s when downtown St. Petersburg had only a scattering of restaurants and little activity.
An influx of restaurants and bars with seating pouring out onto the sidewalks from Beach Drive to Central Avenue has injected life into the downtown core in the past decade, but city leaders are now grappling with how to manage the boom in the city's nightlife.
Lee complained the city isn't doing enough to limit late night noise from clubs like Vue 19, where revelers party on rooftop balcony into the wee hours.
"There are a lot of violations and most of them are noise," he said.
City zoning official Philip Lazzara said the sidewalk café regulations would not apply to rooftop clubs or any noise coming from private property that doesn't spill out onto public sidewalks. That issue falls under the city's noise ordinance, he said.
Lazarra said the city has revoked the permission of some restaurants to maintain a sidewalk café, like Tryst on Beach Drive, until they agreed to cut down on the noise during later hours.
But he said the city will give business owners plenty of warning before shutting down their outdoor space.
"We wouldn't just come and shut your café down. It would not be a surprise," he said.
Restaurant owners like Gary Grooms asked city officials to simplify regulations for sidewalk cafes and do a better job communicating with businesses. He said the city mailed a renewal form to the wrong address and later applied stiff penalties to the Z-Grille.
Grooms, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, also suggested building rules into the ordinance that would limit noise without stifling sidewalk cafes.
"I don't ever hear a complaint about sidewalk cafes per se; noise, we hear. If there's something that we can do to put something in the sidewalk café regulations that will help that, that would be great," he said.
Freedman, the downtown resident, said although he hears lots of noise complaints from neighbors, he was shocked by how few turned out for the meeting.
"I was expecting this to be a big meeting and I'm a little disappointed," he said.