Most Ocean Drive businesses will have to turn down the volume after the Miami Beach City Commission on Wednesday gave initial approval to an ordinance that would significantly reduce the number of establishments exempt from noise restrictions.
Miami Beach prohibits unreasonably loud, excessive, unnecessary or unusual noise, but Ocean Drive businesses between First and 15th Streets are currently exempt. The historic, Art Deco-lined stretch’s sidewalk cafes, bars and clubs can blast music without restrictions, as long as the sound projects east into Lummus Park and the beach beyond it.
Commissioners made no comment as they voted unanimously for the measure. If the proposal passes the commission’s final vote on Oct. 17, when the public will have the chance to comment, only businesses between Ninth and 11th Streets on Ocean Drive — the heart of the entertainment zone — would still be exempt from the city’s noise ordinance.
Why the exemption for those two blocks, which include Mango’s Tropical Cafe and the Clevelander? Because that stretch is further from homes than the rest of Ocean Drive is, Mayor Dan Gelber said.
Ceci Velasco, executive director of the Ocean Drive Association, called the proposal a good compromise.
“It’s better than eliminating the exemption,” she said. “We’re maintaining the integrity of how Ocean Drive was first formulated.”
Managers at several establishments that would no longer be exempt, such as Il Bolognese and Carlyle Cafe, said they agreed with the proposal. But Ailene Torres, who does public relations for outdoor restaurant Il Giardino, worries that restricting noise would hurt the business.
“If you’re going to take away one of our main staples for attracting tourists, you’re going to basically relegate the entertainment district to a few blocks,” Torres said. “We’ll end up looking like Washington Avenue before long.”
For years, the iconic tourist attraction has struggled to reconcile its reputation as a late-night party haven with residents’ desire for a more peaceful atmosphere. Last summer, commissioners unanimously voted to eliminate the noise ordinance exemption for a four-month period, after which the exemption returned. But, that fall, voters rejected a ballot measure to end drinking at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. on Ocean Drive.
Miami Beach police began cracking down this spring on drivers blaring music, shortly after massive spring break and St. Patrick’s Day festivities prompted police to temporarily block access to the MacArthur Causeway.
As it stands, the exemption makes it difficult for the city to enforce its noise ordinance, Gelber said.
“When you allow eastern-going noise, it’s hard for an officer to say, ‘Well, your noise really isn’t going easterly,’” he said.
In 2018, there have been 121 noise complaints and 24 noise ordinance violations regarding Ocean Drive establishments, according to city records. The violations resulted in either a warning or a fine.
The police department has assigned 12 cops to patrol Ocean Drive full-time in the evenings. Additional undercover officers spend more than half their time in the area, according to Police Chief Dan Oates. He said narrowing the noise ordinance exemption would make it easier for his officers to police Ocean Drive.
“That cabaret-style broadcasting of music draws a certain kind of crowd that has to be policed,” Oates said.
Violating the noise ordinance carries a $250 fine for the first offense and a $1,000 fine for the second offense within a year. Gelber said increased revenue was not a factor in advocating the partial repeal.
Gelber, who was elected in November 2017 and once lived on Ocean Drive, said he wants to make the street safer and less raucous. He also hopes to encourage what he called positive development of the area.
“Any business that needs to blast music to get customers is probably not a business that we want on Ocean Drive, to be frank,” he said.