Miami Beach Mayor Trying to Get Consensus on Ocean Drive Noise Ordinance

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Mayor Trying to Get Consensus on Ocean Drive Noise Ordinance:

Part of initiative to improve Ocean Drive

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber says he’s “trying to achieve the possible” in putting forth ideas for his colleagues on the City Commission to consider as part of an effort to get the City's South Beach entertainment district under control. To get to “possible,” Gelber knows there will be compromises, “different incarnation[s]” of ideas. One of those ideas – ending the noise exemption to the east for businesses between 9th and 11th Streets on Ocean Drive – will be back before Commissioners this week after pushback from a key committee. Instead of tossing it out completely, Gelber is now proposing an exemption that ends at 1:00 am each day.

Four businesses would be impacted: The Palace, Mango’s, the Clevelander, and Ocean’s Ten. All were granted Certificate of Use Permits (CUPs) by the Planning Board to have music above ambient levels to the east of their properties. They, like the other businesses on Ocean Drive, must abide by ambient levels to the north, south, and west.

The first proposal, suggested by City staff, for a repeal of the exemption wasn’t well received by the Land Use and Sustainability Committee which expressed concerns about current laws not being enforced and the impact, particularly, on three of the City’s long-standing businesses – The Palace, Mango’s, and Clevelander. The Committee voted 2-1 to send an unfavorable recommendation back to the Commission.

Palace owner Tom Donall said the initial proposal to repeal the noise exemption could have put him out of business. The Palace has been a Miami Beach fixture for more than three decades, attracting a global audience for its popular drag shows which take place primarily outdoors.

Asked if the amended ordinance allowing music above ambient levels until 1:00 am and then at ambient levels until closing satisfies his concerns, Donall said he was worried about the Clevelander which has a large outdoor entertainment space where “ambient [music] sounds louder because it’s an open space.”

Gelber is working on a solution that would create a heritage business designation. To qualify, a business would have to be a commercial entity, open to the public, "including but not limited to restaurants, drinking establishments, and retail uses." If an establishment has been in business for at least 25 years and is in good standing with no pending or active City code violations, it would be eligible for nomination.

“The Palace, it’s an important property in our city,” Gelber said. “It’s contributions to the LGBTQ community are significant and, by the way, I think the Clevelander is also sort of a place that is different, if for no other reason than the physicality of the place. So, there are places that we recognize have some history.” 

That said, Gelber added, “The experience in that area has to be, I think, more elevated and I think we have to look [to create] a sense of place, that is what we’re hoping for, and not just what we end up with.”

None of the impacted businesses knows the details of how the heritage designation would work and the agenda item is vague, but Donall believes the City’s intention is to protect the Palace and the other legacy businesses. “They find this is the best way to go to protect us for future rules that they’re coming up with down the road.”

Of the four businesses impacted by the noise ordinance change, the Palace, Mango’s, and Clevelander would all qualify for heritage designation as proposed given their longevity in the City. Ocean’s Ten would not be eligible now as it has only been around since 2003.

In addition to longevity, a heritage business would have to meet three of the following criteria:
  1. The establishment is unique to Miami Beach and the original location of the establishment was in Miami Beach.
  2. The establishment has a demonstrated record of promoting the City of Miami Beach in a positive manner.
  3. The establishment has significantly contributed to the history or identity of the City, or a neighborhood in the City.
  4. The establishment is committed to maintaining the unique physical features, services, arts, performances or traditions that define the business, including, but not limited to craft, culinary, or art forms.

The Administration cited San Francisco, North Miami, and San Antonio as examples of cities with legacy business designations.

Alex Tachmes of Shutts & Bowen represents the Palace, Clevelander, and Ocean’s Ten. In a statement, he said, “We commend the Mayor for sponsoring the Heritage Business ordinance. Although we need to know more about the rights and benefits that would apply to a Heritage Business, this is an excellent step forward by the Mayor in protecting those historic businesses on Ocean Drive that have played an essential role in South Beach for decades.”

Mango’s attorney Monika Entin is interested in the idea but said, “I think it is premature to do anything on a first reading basis without having workshops to discuss the unforeseen consequences. While on its face it could be great, we just don’t know what a heritage business is and the impact that it will have on the overall business.”

“We don’t know what they are at this point and we don’t have any idea as to what they could be,” she added. “It’s not that we’re against it. This could be great and we might support it, but it needs to be processed and understood fully.”

Entin said in one agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, there are three potentially conflicting items regarding music – the noise exemption, the heritage designation, and a discussion item on an enforcement plan for Ocean Drive which includes a memo from Police Chief Rick Clements that, near the end, contains a recommendation for ambient music only from 9 pm until 3 am.

As to Mango’s, Entin asked, “Is it 1 am? Is it ambient from 9 to 3? Or are we grandfathered into something because we’re historic? I don’t know the answer.”  

The inconsistency, she said, “just creates uncertainty.”

Gelber said he knows “No single approach is going to change the nature of the Entertainment District” which is why there are “a lot of ideas right now, both carrots and sticks that are being reviewed.”

“I really hope that we are bold. We need to be bold because I don’t think we’re going to fix this with incremental legislation,” he said while also noting that “at least four of us have to agree on these measures.”

He acknowledged there “wasn’t really an appetite on the Commission” to get rid of the noise exemption for the two blocks, “but I do think we need to do more and I’m hoping the 1:00 am is something that makes sense. It doesn’t mean no music, it just isn’t loud, blaring through. It changes the dynamic.” He pointed to observations by the Police Department that there is a change in behavior whenever loud music is restricted.

Like the Commissioners on the Land Use Committee who said the issue was more one of enforcement, Donall said, “Noise is not the problem. There’s a lot of issues here. They’ve got to do no tolerance, hire enough police to clean it up… They have the laws and rules already in place, they’ve just gotta start enforcing them.”

City Commission Meeting
Wednesday, November 18, 8:30 am

Noise exemption ordinance here

Heritage business designation proposal here

Discussion item on Ocean Drive enforcement here


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