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Music at amphitheater is too loud, commissioners say

Clear Channel will consider its options after a request for a noise exemption is rejected.

By MICHAEL VAN SICKLER
Published October 20, 2005


TAMPA - Hillsborough County commissioners voted Thursday against waiving noise limits for the Ford Amphitheatre, a move that almost certainly renews a costly legal battle.

Clear Channel Entertainment, the owner of the arena along Interstate 4 in eastern Hillsborough, was seeking to play its concerts at a noise level about 10 decibels louder than current rules allow.

But after listening to a clip of the hard rock band Papa Roach at the level Clear Channel was seeking, commissioners Kathy Castor, Tom Scott, Mark Sharpe and Ronda Storms concluded that was still unacceptable.

"It's just too plain loud," Castor said. "They need to fix the problem and turn it down."

Clear Channel asked that they get a waiver to the county's noise rules, and in exchange, the company would spend $2.5-million to build a wall and make other improvements to the venue to reduce the noise that escapes it. Officials with the county's Environmental Protection Commission, which enforces noise rules, estimated that the fix would eliminate about 90 percent of the complaints.

Since the amphitheater opened on July 23, 2004, the county has received more than 320 complaints from nearby residents. EPC executive director Rick Garrity said he couldn't promise Clear Channel's proposal would make those residents much happier.

"This is the best we can do without going back to court," Garrity told commissioners. "Bottom line: You heard what it sounds like. We can't guarantee there wouldn't be complaints."

Still, commissioners Brian Blair, Ken Hagan and Jim Norman said the county should accept Clear Channel's offer because it might be the best one it gets.

"This facility won't go away," Norman said. "It's there. They will fight us and we will put millions into this lawsuit and we may not get the wall."

Rather than accept the offer, however, Scott proposed that Clear Channel come back in a year and ask for the waiver only after spending the $2.5-million in improvements and complying with county noise rules. This was what Scott and the other three commissioners supported.

After the vote, G. Wilson Rogers, a top executive at Clear Channel, said he felt "numb."

"There was much more emotion that went into this vote than clear logic," Rogers said. "I've never made a good decision when I was emotional."

He said his bosses back in Atlanta will review the matter. They have five days to respond. He wouldn't speculate on whether Clear Channel will reject Scott's proposal and return to court. The EPC sued Clear Channel in December after the agency recorded numerous noise violations. In July, the case was suspended in an attempt to get the county and Clear Channel to settle out of court.

But with commissioners rejecting Clear Channel's request for a waiver, EPC attorney Rick Tschantz said it was a good bet for both sides would return to court at a Dec. 12 hearing.

"With this denial, unless an offer is made, we're headed back to litigation," he said.

[Last modified October 20, 2005, 17:35:34]


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