The battle over noisy outdoor concerts is settled when the company that owns the venue agrees to sound-limiting changes.
By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published November 18, 2005
TAMPA - A yearlong legal battle over loud noise at Ford Amphitheatre concerts came to a halt Thursday when Clear Channel Entertainment and county officials agreed on a settlement to tone down the sound.
Terms of the agreement require Clear Channel to build a $2.5-million sound-absorbing wall, lower the height of the amphitheater's lawn speakers and install electronic limiters on them.
Clear Channel also must create a community advisory committee and pay the county $50,000 to monitor 10 concerts to see if the changes work.
The changes are an attempt to keep noise out of nearby neighborhoods, where residents complain the sound during concerts is unbearable.
Clear Channel plans to have the sound wall built by Sept. 30. The county's Environmental Protection Commission has given the company until Dec. 31, 2006, to comply with all terms of the agreement.
The motion for approval passed 6-1, with County Commissioner Kathy Castor voting no.
Commissioner Ronda Storms said it was a win for both sides because the case otherwise would have remained tied up in court.
The EPC sued Clear Channel last year for violating county noise standards, and the county's legal bills already have amounted to more than $600,000.
EPC attorney Rick Tschantz said that possibly the most important aspect of the settlement is that Clear Channel acknowledges the EPC has jurisdiction over the Ford Amphitheatre, even though it sits on the Florida State Fairgrounds property.
County commissioners sit as the EPC, which is responsible for county noise and environmental regulations.
"I hope that today marks the ending of a bad chapter and the beginning of a very good chapter," G. Wilson Rogers, a top executive at Clear Channel, told the EPC. "This gets us out of the courtroom and into the drawing room and the construction room."
At a meeting Oct. 20, the EPC rejected Clear Channel's offer to make some of these same changes in exchange for permission to play some concerts twice as loud as rules allow.
One of the settlement conditions is that the EPC seek no new legal action against Clear Channel while the efforts to reduce noise are put in place. The EPC has agreed to drop its lawsuit against the entertainment giant and has 10 days to do so, Tschantz said.
However, if concerts continue to violate the noise limits after Dec. 31, 2006, the EPC can sue. If that happens, Tschantz said the EPC would have to collect data on sound levels from concerts that occur on or after Jan. 1, 2007.
Castor raised concerns about not prosecuting Clear Channel if it violates noise levels for an entire year.
"That just gives me some trouble to say for one year, you all will have a free ride," she said.
Tschantz and Rogers said that won't happen.
"I don't look at this as a free hand," Rogers said. "I still have a diligence to meet these interim agreements."
While permanent changes are in the works, Clear Channel has agreed to install a temporary sound wall, lower lawn speakers and monitor how high performers place their own speakers on the stage. The height of speakers can affect how much noise escapes the amphitheater, located near Interstate 4.
If necessary, Clear Channel also can reapply for another noise variance from the EPC after modifications have been made. There's no guarantee commissioners will approve it.
Because the Florida State Fairgrounds owns the property and puts on its own concerts, the EPC named it in the lawsuit filed last December against Clear Channel that sought to stop concerts and force Clear Channel to pay hefty fines for noise violations.
The fair authority entered an agreement late Wednesday with Clear Channel to give the company control over any concerts the fair would have produced. That agreement will come before the EPC on Dec. 8. If the EPC accepts, the lawsuit against the fairgrounds also would be dismissed.
A.D. "Sandy" MacKinnon, chairman of the Florida State Fair Authority, said little to commissioners except that he agreed the settlement was a good step.
Only two residents addressed the EPC before the vote. One was Richard Dakin, who lives near the fairgrounds on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. "I'm very comfortable with it if they do what they say," Dakin said of the agreement.
Michael Harrah, a Terrace Oaks Home Owners Association officer, didn't attend the meeting but has spoken out before against the noise problems. He lives about 4 miles from the Ford Amphitheatre and said he hears music at his home when "somebody obnoxiously loud" performs. He said he's not so sure the agreement will accomplish anything.
"I just think it's kind of funny how they're spending all this money on sound barriers and stuff, and the whole thing is something as cheap as turning the volume down," Harrah said. "Other than that, I'll believe it when I hear it. It's not surprising that they're always trying to do a deal versus trying to do the right thing."
The Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission approved a settlement with Clear Channel Entertainment to lower noise levels at Ford Amphitheatre concerts. It will drop its lawsuit against Clear Channel. Among the things Clear Channel must do:
Design and construct a $2.5-million sound barrier wall.
Lower and install electronic limiters on the lawn speakers.
Monitor the height individual performers place speakers on the main stage.
Give the EPC $50,000 to monitor 10 concerts for noise levels, once sound-limiting modifications are complete.
Establish a community advisory committee.
Clear Channel has until Dec. 31, 2006, to comply with all conditions.