Noisy St. Pete business has free rein despite 122 complaint calls

From 2009 to 2016, St. Petersburg residents made 122 calls to St. Petersburg Police complaining about noise coming from the Flamingo Resort. 45% of the calls during the last four years led to police asking or telling the Flamingo to reduce the volume, yet no citations were issued.

The data raises the question of how the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) could ask the Flamingo to lower the noise if no city ordinance was violated? If instead a city noise ordinance was violated, then why was no citation issued even once?

The Flamingo Resort is located at 4601 34th Street South in St. Petersburg in the so-called Skyway Marina District. As the St. Petersburg downtown area grew, battles over noise between residents and bars followed. The data involving the Flamingo shows that that noise pollution isn’t just a downtown St. Petersburg issue anymore.

less_noiseA review of the SPPD’s “Calls for Service Reports” (CSR’s) found that on October 3, 2013 at 10:50 PM, one caller said “the walls are vibrating. It’s just awful. I asked them very nicely to turn the bass down and they have not. This has been going on for hours.”

In response to another call on the February 28, 2014 at 12:30 AM, the responding officer “explained the ordinance to the (Flamingo resort) manager on duty; He turned down the music.”

SPPD’s co-called “Noise Call Log” records calls from Thursday to Monday. All calls made about the Flamingo on Fridays were after midnight. 54% of the calls were on Sunday, where the music reportedly started around 1 PM and lasted until 9 PM or longer.

St. Pete resident Robert Neff, whose residence is more than 1,000 feet from the Flamingo, spoke about the noise issue at the May 19th St. Petersburg City Council Open Forum. In the video below, Neff and Georgia Kakaroukas present evidence to City Council and Mayor Kriseman regarding noise emanating from the Flamingo Resort.

The City of St. Petersburg uses distance and time of day to determine a violation, not decibel level. According to the City Municipal Code, 11-53(4)(a) & (b), a violation occurs when “sound is plainly audible to any person” for a specified distance and time. The noise ordinance as written is what’s known as a “subjective ordinance”, and there are thorny issues to navigate whether subjective or objective standards are used.

After working with Community Service Officer Kelly to address the Flamingo noise issue, in May of 2015 Neff began working with SPPD Major Kovacsec, the acting Assistant Chief of Police. Neff  says that the noise continued throughout the summer and that is why he e-mailed  Mayor Kriseman, City Council and Neff’s district representative Steve Kornell. Neff says Kornell never responded.

On Jun 29, 2015, Mayor Kriseman’s executive assistant Lisa Brekke e-mailed Kovacsev on behalf of the mayor and said the following about Neff’s complaints:

“Thank you for your tolerance and patience in dealing with this, our office greatly appreciates it. I also want to apologize for what seems to me a significant waste of the officers’ times in dealing with this. I know you have better things to do.”

ben_kirbyThe Guardian asked the mayor’s communications director, Ben Kirby (pictured right), for a comment on Brekke’s e-mail. We also asked “on what basis can a SPPD officer ask that the volume be turned down if the noise ordinance is not violated?”

Kirby responded with “the St. Petersburg Police Department has thoroughly investigated and responded to this matter, and will continue to do so. We are aware of pending litigation between two parties in question and are not going to comment beyond that.”

It’s highly unusual for a city to refuse to answer questions about enforcement of its own laws (in this case: the noise ordinance) because of a lawsuit in which it’s neither involved, nor likely to become involved.

The “pending litigation” Kirby referred to may be the civil lawsuit that the owners of the Flamingo filed against Neff in Pinellas Circuit Court on March 18, 2016. The suit lists five counts: defamation, injurious falsehood, private nuisance, tortious interference with an advantageous business relationship, and malicious prosecution. Neff says the charges are unfounded and that he will “respond appropriately”.

Neff says he first spoke to Officer Kelly in April of 2015, and hasn’t called in any complaints since June or July of 2015. Neff says that the city is apparently and improperly siding with the Flamingo owner over residents. “The city could have handled this differently”, Neff said. “I’m very disappointed.”

This may not be the last we hear of this matter (pun intended). As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide.

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