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The Local Original: The battle over noise

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People for Park Entertainment” Petition: ipetitions.com/petition/peopleforparks

The residents of Sarasota have been engaged in a civil war for over two decades regarding the issue of outdoor nighttime entertainment. The dispute is an inherent result of numerous area bars operating in close proximity to condo buildings. The battle seemed to subside over the past two years, mostly due to the economic slowdown. But with this season's record-breaking Siesta Key tourism numbers, and the nearly 5,000 people who gathered in Selby Five Points Park for May 12's Harvey Milk Festival, the fight has suddenly roared back to life on all fronts.

The Five Points area has been the literal heart of downtown Sarasota since the 1940s. The public park that now sits between Pineapple and Central was officially dedicated on Sunday, Jan. 20, 1991, as part of an Arts Day celebration that included 15 art galleries and 25 performing groups. “Downtown is being reborn,” then City Manager David Sollenberger told the Herald-Tribune following the event. “This park is going to be a magnet for the downtown area,” added then City Commissioner Jack Gurney. “There will be art shows and concerts and other events here regularly.”

Of course, that was before the park was cast into the dark shadows of condominium towers — prior to the current political climate where money and influence trump art and community every time. A prime example is the “Special Meeting” that City Commissioners agreed to hold this Thursday (May 24), after fielding complaints from downtown condo owners following the HMF concert in Five Points.

Upon learning of the hastily scheduled meeting, local writer and HMF co-producer Anthony Paull posted a callout on ThisWeekInSarasota.com urging citizens to attend. As of Monday, the piece had racked up 550 Facebook “Likes,” and an online petition called “People for Park Entertainment” (also launched by TWIS) had garnered nearly 600 signatures. But the kicker is a YouTube video that was posted by user Citizen Kane on May 20 titled “Five Points Park (behind the scenes of Condo Assoc. Meeting)”. The clip shows an enraged Hitler in a scene from the German film “Downfall,” only the subtitles have been replaced with rants about bench removal, sidewalk chalk, roundabouts, bums and noise. It's up to about 1,400 views. The commission's “Special Meeting” has since been canceled.

Noise complaints on Siesta Key have also increased in recent weeks, seemingly ignited by an April 13 email from Village condo owner Mike Ashley to Siesta Key Association Vice President Peter Van Roekens. “I called in yet another noise complaint about Siesta Key Oyster Bar tonight,” writes Ashley. “At 11:30 I personally observed that they still had a live band playing.” That's probably because SKOB's live music cut-off time is midnight on Fridays. But that didn't stop Van Roekens from forwarding the letter to SKA President Catherine Luckner, who immediately copied County Commissioner Nora Patterson on the exchange.

Van Roekens and Patterson have been allies in the Siesta noise war for a decade. Back then, as president of the Terrace East Condo Association, Van Roekens worked closely with Patterson to implement the original Village noise restrictions. Unlike sound laws in most cities, it was actually Van Roekens' idea to take decibel readings at the venue, rather than the place of complaint. “Nora Patterson was the one who started to see there was a problem,” he recalled in a 2009 interview. “If you measure at the receiving point everybody points fingers, so I had it changed to the generating property line.”

Obviously, Van Roekens has enough pull with the commissioners to single-handedly influence our county laws. That's probably why word of his latest noise crackdown spread so quickly. Within days, complaints alleging everything from underage drinking to “sinister arrangements” with the police were filed by Donald Kruse and Timothy Haake of Terrace East and Joe Volpe of Treasure Boat Way. Volpe, who now serves as publicity chair for SKA, is a longtime local anti-noise advocate. Kruse and Haake, on the other hand, just moved to Siesta earlier this year. Apparently, they didn't notice the nine bars directly below their balcony before purchasing their condos. Luckily, they have friends in high places.

Last modified: May 22, 2012
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