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Neighbors boo bar's live music

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002

OLDSMAR -- Deborah Grecco has called the law eight times. She has written letters to the State Attorney's Office, the Pinellas County Commission and the Oldsmar mayor.

Yet she still hears it every night.

Boom, boom, boom, boom.

"You can hear it in the house," said Grecco, 48, who lives in a waterfront home on Phoenix Avenue. "I can't even open my windows. It sounds like they should be at an amphitheater."

But the live bands playing at Jack Willie's Original Tiki Bar and Grill on St. Petersburg Drive are not in a large auditorium. Instead, the stage is on an outdoor patio, about 400 feet from Grecco's home.

Grecco said she hears the bands every night. Some Saturdays, they start playing at 1 p.m and go until 11 p.m.

"It's an ongoing nuisance," she said. "It's loud, acoustical, amplified music. It's earth-shaking."

And hers is not the only house shaking.

One neighbor, Kerry Roberts, 32, said that when the bands strike up, his house starts to tremble. The noise even scares the birds away.

"You feel the bass beat until midnight, 1, 2 in the morning," he said. "This is the time of year in Florida where you want to have your windows open. It's disturbing."

The complaints began nearly two years ago when Jack Willie's opened under the ownership of New York Yankees pitching guru Billy Connors. To attract new customers, the bar started offering live music seven days a week.

Since then, Pinellas County sheriff's deputies and code enforcement officers have issued several warnings to Jack Willie's on noise violations.

Jack Willie's paid a $156 fine on Dec. 13 for a noise violation. The following night, the bands were at it again.

Boom, boom, boom, boom.

Matthew Hite, manager of Jack Willie's, said that when officers asked him to turn down the volume on Dec. 13, the last band was finishing up.

He said he checks the volume regularly to make sure it doesn't exceed the 55 decibels allowed under local ordinances. Officials take that measurement from the nearest adjacent property line.

When he gets a complaint, he waits until the band finishes a number and then tells it to turn the volume down.

"Some bands turn it back up, so we have to stay on them," Hite said. "I stay on them to keep them turning it down.

"Every now and then, it hits a song where they play it louder. That's music. It's tough to regulate that. We try to do the best we can."

There are also a number of bands who play, so sometimes when officers respond to a complaint, the noise has diminished some because a different band is playing.

Although the department has been called to Jack Willie's many times, the bar has been found in violation only twice. Both times it was minimal, a little more than 60 decibels.

"It's loud, but it's not a huge amount," said Larry Lara, a county code enforcement program manager. "It's not something glaring. We have talked with other neighbors. A lot of folks aren't even aware that it's a problem."

The problem is the waterfront bar is in a residential neighborhood, Lara said. There is nothing to stop the noise.

Neither Grecco nor Roberts wants to see the bar close. They want the volume on the amplifiers turned down or the bands moved to another location.

Hite says he is listening. He is canceling live music on Monday nights. He is planning to get more two-piece bands instead of four-member groups. He also is considering getting a Plexiglas wall to surround the deck to cushion the noise.

And on New Year's Eve, the bands are going to play inside.

"We'll take away tables and do what we can, so we still have entertainment but not interfere or annoy the neighbors," he said.

Lara said the only thing the neighbors can do is keep calling when they think the music is too loud. Each violation doubles in penalty up to $500.

"We certainly would not try to close them down," he said. "We would just ask them to lower the level of the volume. It's usually easy to do."

But Grecco says she's at her wit's end. She is considering putting her house on the market.

"We have lived here 14 years," she said. "We're just looking for a little peace."

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