County to develop noise ordinance

OKEECHOBEE — The need for an enforceable sound abatement ordinance for Okeechobee County was highlighted at the Sept. 15 workshop about a proposed amendment to the Sundance Trails Planned Development, the site of the Okeechobee Music Festival.

The workshop, held in the Historic Okeechobee Courthouse, attracted festival supporters as well as Dark Hammock area residents who voiced complaints about the noise levels at the 2016 festival.

Clifford Rosen, who spoke to the county commission on behalf of Soundslinger LLC, said the music festival organizers want to address the sound issues. To that end, Soundslinger has contracted with Cerami, an acoustical and technology consulting firm.

He said they will meet whatever standard that Okeechobee County establishes in their noise ordinance.

County administrator Robbie Chartier said the county will also contract with an acoustical engineer in regard to a noise ordinance.

County Commissioner Terry Burroughs said establishing a noise ordinance is not as easy as it may sound.

“I don’t want to be rushed to get this done,” he said.

“We need to have the time to put together the ordinance that is appropriate.

“If it’s not legally defensible, we are going to have a problem,” he continued.

“Fort Myers Beach had one but lost a lawsuit because their sound ordinance was not created appropriately,” he added.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper noted that major music festivals require planning that starts years in advance in order to book the entertainers.

Bill Royce of the Okeechobee Planning and Development Department, said Soundslinger plans to make a substantial permanent investment in the property.

“We know we need to develop noise standards,” said Mr. Royce. “And after the county develops the noise standards, the festival has to come up with a way to meet those standards.”

“For people who live in the area, the main concern was the noise,” said Commission Chairman Frank Irby.

“The question is how do you choke that noise down so that it doesn’t travel so far. We have the same problem when we have events at the Agri-Civic Center,” he said.

“One man’s music is another man’s noise,” said Mac Worley. “I have been asking the planning director for a sound management ordinance for some time.

“The county ordinance should be as simple as establishing a decibel level. I don’t see why the county should need an acoustic engineer.”

“If we are going to establish a noise ordinance for the county, we have to be able to set something based on some expertise,” said Chairman Irby.

He noted the ordinance would cover noise complaints in the entire county, not just those related to the festival.

He said he expected the sound level rules would vary depending on the time of day, and whether it is a week night or weekend.

“It was a first-year festival,” said Mr. Rosen. “We engaged the very best people in every single category — health, fire safety, traffic.

“In each area, we have engaged a nationally recognized company,” he said.

“We’ve hired what we think is the best,” he explained.

“I want everyone to have the same confidence in us to have the same sincere approach to sound as we have with everything else,” he said.

If the county establishes set decibel levels at the property lines, the festival organizers can address that, he said.

Mr. Rosen asked the county to go ahead with the proposed changes to the development plan, without waiting for development of the sound ordinance.

He said the plan requires Soundslinger to abide by county ordinances, so when the county sound ordinance is approved, they will comply.

He said in order to manage the financing and investment in infrastructure, they need the assurance that the festivals will be allowed to continue as long as they abide by county ordinances.

He asked that the amendments be on the agenda for the next available county commission meeting. Since there was not sufficient time to legally advertise the issue before the Sept. 22 meeting, the item will be added to the agenda for the Oct. 11 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission.

The first Okeechobee Music Festival was held on the 800-plus acre Sundance Trails property in March 2016. The 2017 festival is scheduled for March 2-5.

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