The workshop is set for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at the City Hall Annex, 4100 Indian Bayou Trail. Among other issues, the council might consider banning loud music and other HarborWalk Village-generated noise at certain times.

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DESTIN — After hearing protests from some influential business officials, the City Council has agreed to have a workshop on possible noise regulations for HarborWalk Village.

The workshop is set for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at the City Hall Annex at 4100 Indian Bayou Trail. Among other issues, the council might consider banning loud music and other HarborWalk Village-generated noise at certain times.

The council also is leaning toward implementing separate noise rules that would replace existing ones and apply to all parts of the city other than HarborWalk Village, which is also known as Destin Harbor Boardwalk and the “festive marketplace.”

Under the potential rules for areas outside of the boardwalk, city code enforcement officers and Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputies would be able to issue a warning for the first offense of causing a “plainly audible” noise disturbance at any time of day. Subsequent offenders could face fines starting at $100.

The noise would have to be heard 300 feet or more away from the source in commercial and mixed-use zoning areas and 150 feet or more away from the source in residential areas.

The city’s existing noise ordinance calls for the use of a decibel meter to measure noise levels at certain times of the day for various parts of the city. But while the “plainly audible” type of sound detection listed in the proposed regulations is constitutional and enforceable in court, the use of a decibel meter is not, City Attorney Jeff Burns told the council last Wednesday.

That’s when the council initially considered replacing the existing ordinance with a new one and applying the “plainly audible” measure to all parts of Destin, including HarborWalk Village.

That possibility caused an uproar among various HarborWalk Village representatives.

“What prompted this (possible new ordinance)?” AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar owner Alan Laird asked the council during the meeting. “I went in (partnership) with the city on the festive marketplace. I’ve invested my money. I think this ordinance has some target spots.”

Hot spot

HarborWalk Village, which along with the Emerald Grande was developed by Legendary Inc., held its grand opening in June 2008, complete with fireworks to honor military heroes.

Since then, the “festive marketplace” has quickly grown into an Emerald Coast entertainment hot spot with many new restaurants, bars, shops and amusements. The number of HarborWalk Village-sponsored fireworks’ displays also has grown to 10 per year.

Last winter the council had several discussions on cracking down on those fireworks shows. Some residents, including those on Holiday Isle across Destin Harbor had complained about the noise of the pyrotechnics.

The council in January backed away from trying to decrease the number of fireworks’ shows, but suggested that staff look into a noise ordinance to address loud music and other HarborWalk Village-generated noise.

At last Wednesday’s council meeting, harbor-front residential and commercial property owner Claude Perry said he appreciates that some neighborhoods have difficulty with noise coming from HarborWalk Village.

But a former “City Council created the festive marketplace and has encouraged property owners to provide the facilities that support the festive marketplace,” Perry said. “I’m concerned that you’re setting a bad precedent for future councils, and are absolutely reversing what previous councils long ago established.”

Perry suggested exempting HarborWalk Village from the proposed noise ordinance.

Legendary Chief Operating Officer Bruce Craul said that when Legendary partnered with the city to develop HarborWalk Village, both parties agreed that noise such as music, singing and the sound of boats were the “sounds of the harbor.”

“We have a noise ordinance now,” Craul said. “The decibel meter works.”

He also said south harbor-area businesses police themselves when it comes to noise problems.

“There’s some kind of overreach here” with the proposed ordinance, Craul said.

Johnny Fuller, owner of Tailfins Seafood, Alehouse and Oyster Bar, said the harbor district is a unique entertainment venue.

“The harbor is what makes Destin’s vibe go,” Fuller said. “And you mess with that, you’re messing with the wrong thing.”

Like Laird, Destin Charter Boat Association President Gary Jarvis said he wanted to know the justification for the proposed ordinance, which he said is “way too broad” and “way too vague.” Permitting investigators to address noise issues based on “plainly audible sound” rather than by using a decibel meter would allow for potential abuses by city employees and law enforcement officers, Jarvis said.

“Are we really trying to make the community better, or are we just going to try to target a certain group or the industry on the harbor?” he asked the council.

But Guy Tadlock, vice president of the Holiday Isle Improvement Association, said he supports having a workable ordinance.

“If we want to preserve our goal of being a high-end, world-class vacation destination, we’ve got to do that,” he said. “I don’t think we want to get into a situation where we get the reputation that one of our neighbors (Panama City Beach) to the east has of being a party town.”

‘Good neighbor’

Mayor Scott Fischer said that before he was elected mayor in March 2016, Sheriff’s Office officials told him Destin's existing noise ordinance was unenforceable in court.

Before he was elected, Fischer served as president of the Holiday Isle Improvement Association. He currently is one of its directors.

“I believe this (proposed) ordinance ... is pretty typical of those you’ll find throughout the country,” Fischer said. “It’s not really directed at anyone. It has a long list of exceptions, such as fireworks. Basically, “I refer it to a ‘good neighbor’ ordinance. What we’re really driving at here is we simply want people to not keep their neighbors up all night long when they’ve got to get up and get their kids to school the next morning and go to work.”

Councilman Parker Destin, whose father, Dewey, owns the two Dewey Destin Seafood Restaurants in Destin, said there is a difference between having a noise ordinance and having zero entertainment on the harbor.

“There has to be some middle ground,” Parker Destin said. “Where that lies, of course, is subjective.”

Added Councilman Tuffy Dixon: “We’re not looking to shut down anyone’s business.”

The first reading of the originally proposed noise ordinance is tentatively set for the Oct. 2 City Council meeting, city spokesman Doug Rainer said Tuesday.

He said any revisions to the proposed ordinance — such as having it apply to all areas of Destin except HarborWalk Village — that receive consensus from the council at the Sept. 25 workshop will be voted on during the first reading.