Businesses exempt from new Sebastian noise ordinance

SEBASTIAN – The City of Sebastian is on its way to establishing a new noise ordinance after the city council unanimously supported the proposed rule’s first reading. The next reading will be Sept. 23.

The proposed ordinance addresses residential noise issues, but not commercial, though noise from commercial businesses such as Capt. Hiram’s prompted many of the complaints, according to residents.

Following numerous complaints lodged with the Sebastian Police Department and the difficulty enforcing the existing code, the Sebastian City Council had asked City Attorney Robert Ginsburg to examine the noise ordinances of other jurisdictions and put together a plan for Sebastian. However, the proposed ordinance does not address commercial properties, as they are exempt. And while Earl’s Hideaway has not been a target for noise complaints, Capt. Hiram’s has.


“Earl’s is not the problem,” said Cathy Ferrell, a beachside resident of Vero Beach, who addressed the Council regarding noise pollution drifting across the Indian River from Sebastian to her neighborhood.

Tuck Ferrell, who has previously addressed the Sebastian Council, expressed that Captain Hiram’s is the problem.

“I thought things were going well. Things were quiet for a while. Now it’s worse,” he stated.

Ferrell indicated he will have to start calling the County and go to the County Commission to get a resolution to the noise from Sebastian reaching the other side of the River.

He added that the noise was impacting wildlife, including White Pelicans and other birds and fish, and affecting real estate.

“I was hoping for relief, but with the commercial exemption, there’s no relief,” said Ferrell. “I can’t sleep at night. It’s not a good neighbor thing. It’s out of hand.”

Ferrell called police last Saturday night when music from Captain Hiram’s was causing his windows to shake and calls to Captain Hiram’s manager went unanswered.

The music finally ceased at 1 a.m., he said.

Cathy Ferrell elaborated, “We are two and a half miles across the River from Captain Hiram’s. Saturday was not even a concert.”

The noise was unbearable despite the windows being closed with the air conditioner on, a buffer of land between the house and the river, and wearing earplugs, they said.

Cathy Ferrell added that there is a reasonable way to have a city noise ordinance that applies to music late at night.

“Please help us,” she pleaded to the council, adding that she was tired of driving over to meet police officers at Captain Hiram’s.

Mayor Richard Gillmore proposed that a way to determine the noise level at Hiram’s would be to do a decibel reading at the end of their docks.

Vice Mayor Jim Hill suggested that the Ferrell’s problem with noise from a commercial business was a separate issue from formulating the basis of a sound ordinance for the resident citizens of Sebastian.

Hill apologized to the Ferrells and said, “We don’t need to inconvenience our neighbors.”

Hill expressed that the ordinance was a step in the right direction, which does not prevent re-visiting a resolution as to how businesses can thrive without adversely affecting their neighbors.

Councilmember Simchick disagreed with Hill about the Ferrells’ problem being a separate issue from a sound ordinance for residents, citing many complaints on the Sebastian side of the river about commercial noise.

The councilwoman offered several thoughts on the issue, including establishing hours after which exemptions do not apply and requiring that noise complaints not be anonymous so that decibel readings can be from the residences affected.

Despite the concerns posed by the Ferrells, the Council overwhelmingly approved two amendments to the draft proposed by Ginsburg. The Council also scheduled Sept. 23 as the date of a public hearing on the noise ordinance.

The Council voted to include as an amendment to the draft Councilmember Dale Simchick’s suggestion that the hours be extended from 8 to 9 p.m. for landscaping activities and the use of noise producing residential tools, which must be silent until 7 a.m.

The Council also passed an amendment to accept a wording change proposed by Catherine McKenzie, a representative from AT&T. This change exempts without limitation noises from generators or other equipment used by communications companies or other utility companies responding to a commercial power outage or other service restoration.

Five other noise-generating activities are also listed as exemptions in the approved ordinance. Noises emanating from safety signals and warning devices, government vehicles or property, non-residential uses, emergency work required to re-store property following a natural disaster or to protect people or property from exposure to danger, and activities authorized by the Council or City Manager all qualify as exemptions to the ordinance.

The ordinance reads that “a noise level which exceeds the ambient sound level by five 5 decibels or more” is considered unlawful. The decibel measurement is to be taken from the nearest property line.

In the event a decibel measurement is not readily available, police officers can determine a violation if the excessive noise is “obvious to an ordinary reasonable prudent person.”

A decibel reading can be used as supplemental evidence to document an incident but is not essential. Ginsburg noted that the Sebastian Police Chief had indicated these terms are enforceable.

Councilmember Eugene Wolff illustrated perceptions in the increase of decibel levels with comparisons from his recent research on the subject:

50 decibels is the level of a normal air conditioner

150 decibels is rock music amplified

A one decibel level increase is imperceptible

3 decibels are barely perceived, but an increase of five decibels creates a clearly noticeable change.

A 10 decibel increase doubles the loudness

A 20 decibel increase quadruples the noise.

A first violation of the new noise ordinance will result in a written or an oral warning. Corrective action must be taken within five minutes or a citation will be issued. A first citation is a fine of $50.

A second citation results in a $250 fine, and a third and each subsequent citation results in a $500 fine.

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